What We Once Had

Alchemy .jpgWhat we once had was poetry. Visions and star dust. Translucent. Death to the machine, the grind the walk that we must walk. The everyday pantomime of social media and daily life. I am bored. Asleep in the 21st century.  I want monoliths, transcendence and truth. Moments of humanity that don’t come with a price tag or a sale, a selfie or a headline.
What we once had was poetry. Visions and star dust lost behind the veil of pretty pictures and smiles. Goodnight sweet prince goodnight.


#Talon. #RMEngelhardt. #poetry

Life In The 21st Century

The world is getting weirder. Darker every single day. Things are spinning around faster and faster, and threatening to go completely awry. Falcons and falconers. The center cannot hold. But in my corner of the country, I’m trying to nail things down. I don’t want to live in Victor’s jungle, even if it did eventually devour him. I don’t want to live in a world where the strong rule and the weak cower. I’d rather make a place where things are a little quieter. Where trolls stay the hell under their bridges and where elves don’t come swooping out to snatch children from their cradles. Where vampires respect the limits.

– Jim Butcher

Early 21st Century Poetics

“For me the poem and the poetry open mic isn’t about competition and it never will be. Honestly? It’s wrong. The open mic is about 1 poet, one fellow human being up on a stage or behind a podium sharing their work regardless of what form or style they bring to it. In other words? The guy with the low slam score is more than likely a far better poet-writer than the guy who actually won. But who are you? I ? Or really anyone else to judge them? The Poetry Slam has become an overgrown, over used monopoly on American literature and poetry and is now over utilized by the academic & public school establishments. And over the years has sadly become the “McDonalds Of Poetry”. We can only hope that the same old stale atmosphere of it all eventually becomes or evolves into something new that translates to and from the written page and that gives new poets with different styles & authentic voices a chance to share their work too.” 

Where Are All The New Voices?

Poetry is dead, long live poetry  ~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Poetry is dead, long live poetry
~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti


“O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;

Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;

Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;

Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists, and identity;

That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”

Walt WhitmanLeaves of Grass


According To The Urban Dictionary:

Slam Poetry: A Definition

The poetry that thrives in a culture of non-readers. Very sincere, bad poetry. Delivered in front of and given encouragement from a small group of people who are also bad poets. Slam poets think that their poetry is more powerful if they just yell it. Sincerely painful to listen to. It’s bad poetry. They try very hard, but they have no idea what they’re doing.

Most slam poetry could be better classified as motivational speaking or stand-up comedy.

Poetry : A Definition

 1. An archaic form of literature, now dying off. Doggerel.

As practiced in modern times, poetry is a discredited means of (supposedly) communicating aesthetic thoughts or feelings in verbal form. Thousands, perhaps millions of person-hours, disc/server space, and trees are wasted to develop and store this tripe.

“Award winning” poetry is usually the worst kind, representing the vilest outcome of combining incestuous art-cronyism with self-indulgent self-promotion.

2. A complete waste of time.

1. Bob is nearly finished with his english degree, but he still needs a credit in poetry of the twentieth century.


Small trees that shine

out of watery depths

With broken limbs, like

Becky are

Not why I write.


Above, as you have just read are two comedic and yet sarcastic definitions of what slam poetry is and what poetry itself is to a generation out there who on Urban Dictionary believe that they are being comical and witty. But the truth is that there is some deeper hidden meaning in both of these separate ideas of a definition. Once, poetry was a sacred thing full of wisdom and a secret meaning that the reader was to ponder but it was also about the words and life experiences of the poet, a mystical figure shrouded in enlightenment whose words were like prophecy. The Bible? Poetry. The Koran? Poetry. Religions and laws based on those religions? All poetry and all based on those voices and those words written by wordsmiths and scribes. And those words once meant something more and those poems were epic. Every civilization on earth from the dawn of recorded time has had their great poets. Every age had something to say that defined them. But the question now exactly is where is poetry going and where are all those voices now?

It seems that over the last thirty years or so that poetry has been manipulated into something it should never be by popular culture and by the idea that poetry is anything that you can say (ex. Lyrics) when up upon a stage for a contest and to win a few dollars. As an event idea It’s a wonderful thing that slam poetry open mics have helped academics, colleges and schools bring kids and students into the light of reading literature but it is now an overused tool and it’s time has sadly passed. Slam poetry has simply become another label that has outlived it’s time and usefulness. For poetry should be much more than this, and it has to become much more than this or it just isn’t poetry anymore and the poet merely becomes just another performer or rapper. Once upon a time poetry was important. It created new worlds of imagination and reached imaginations. It influenced and inspired generations who fought and died and who stood up against war and oppression. But tell us, where are these voices now when we need them most?  Where is our new Walt Whitman or William Shakespeare when we are merely as writers and the public writing something just to get up on a stage and to just rant but not to write any words or poems on the page that are powerful or eternal? Who will write these lasting words that will speak to our descendents or to a generation 500 years from now?

It’s time to write. It’s time to dispel the myth that true poetry in all it’s forms is not archaic or dead but alive and well and to bring those forms back into being. It’s time to be inspired and write not just for an audience who applauds you in a cafe or a bar after a few drinks and score you but for those who will read your words many years from now. So let’s be honest. Slam poetry, as a label and as a form, as a contest or as an event has had it’s day and it’s time to pronounce it dead.  If you are a true poet or a writer this shouldn’t bother you but not writing or finding the right words should because that’s what we do. You write. The 20th century produced some amazingly talented poets such as T.S. Eliot, Silvia Plath, Borges, Garcia Lorca and many many others but after the Beat Generation ended it seems overall there are just a mere handful of poets now living or dead  in comparison whose work and craft and the truth within it  all have truly earned the right to be called “Poets”.

So, where are all the new voices now?

We would like to read their words.

Start writing.




Where Is American Poetry Going?




What recent trends in American poetry do you find troubling or worrisome?

Aliki Barnstone: I find poetry wars troublesome. These particular issues of aesthetics should not divide poets. I find the polarization simplistic and limiting to anyone who takes on the label “formalist” or “experimentalist.” The imagination must be free to go anywhere and should not be compelled to follow someone else’s dictates. Furthermore, I find that American poetry wars are American in the worst possible way, and repeat the puritan history of demonizing those who prefer not to conform. The notion, which I’ve heard laid down as a prescription, that the self and identity should be abolished in favor of collectivism is extremely alarming to me, since the implication is that any kind of ethnic, racial, gender, or national identity is suspect.

John Bradley: The appointment of Dana Gioia to head the National Endowment of the Arts signals that, once again, artists will be under pressure to purge their work of all social commentary.

Nick Carbo: The backlash against ethnic poets and the complaint that some poems are “too ethnic.”

Brian Clements: Trends among the poems themselves are never worrisome to me. We’re all going to follow our individ- ual obsessions anyway, so why bother worrying about it? Don’t get me started on what bugs me about the businesses of pub- lishing, awards, and academic hiring. But that doesn’t really have anything to do with poetry, or does it?

Jon Davis: The ongoing wheezing and creaking that once called itselflanguage poetry istroubling, as is the postmod- ern shrug in all of its guises—irony, flippancy, loss of self, etc. But the most troubling ongoing trend is the slam, bout, per- formance nexus, particularly when it marches the young onto the stage with nothing but venom, broad gestures, and a head full of hackneyed abstractions and then rewards them with applause. The pleasure of such instantaneous acclaim so eas- ily bought is piping our talented youth into the hills away from the village of study, hard work, and accomplishment. It strikes me as a new species of child abuse.

Annie Finch: The swallowing of respected trade publishers by megapublishers with no commitment to literary books, and the resulting neglect of poetry reviews in mainstream publications available to general audiences.

Sam Hamill: Too much solipsism, too much fragmented work of mere sensibility, too much safely comfortable apolitical poetry that accepts no serious consequence or responsibility.

Paul Hoover: I don’t find much that is worrisome in poetry; it’s the political life of the country that scares me.

John Hoppenthaler: What troubles me the most is the wave of generally young (but not always) poets who feel compelled to con- tinue a petty and gratuitous argument for some “experimental” mode of poetry over what they insist is a dull period-style poetics formed in academic workshops. This strikes me as the worst sort of antidemocratic (not to mention simpleminded and arrogant) argument to demonize a style that doesn’t suit one in order to val- orize another that does. And this does cut both ways, with pro- moters of a more direct style belittling those who are trying something different. We need to think in terms of “poetries” rather than poetry, which will make the neighborhood a better, richer place to live.

Peter Johnson: The continuing saga of the poet-as-celebrity; superficial pleasantness driven by fear and careerism; the triumph of the prose poem.

George Kalamaras: I find troubling a continuing distrust of imaginative and surrealist poetries, as well as a seemingly strict adherence to more strictly defined genres in which genre-bending forms like the prose poem are often suspect.

Christine Boyka Kluge: Although entertaining, the growing number of poems using excessive wordplay and cleverness as a sub- stitute for ideas seem shallow to me.

Martin Lammon: Although it’s not such a recent trend any- more, I’m still troubled by poets who call for a “return to verse,” or other such slogans. The “New Formalism,” or whatever other term one wants to use, essentially describes a reactionary impulse, a desire to return to a “golden age” of poetry that never was. There are poems by Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop that I love, but their poems do not represent some poetic principle or aesthetic that contemporary poets should emulate, as some would propose. If a poet today chooses to write so-called formal “verse,” that’s fine. There’s room enough for aesthetic choices. But one choice cannot preclude all the other paths that poets may fol- low.

Dana Levin: A focus on language-making and virtuoso vocab- ulary at the expense of having something to say, along with “con- fessional” being a dirty word, especially as “confessional” seems to have become a synonym for “emotional.”

Morton Marcus: I’m still deeply disturbed by the solipsistic trends in American poetry, where the poet writes, it seems, to tickle and entertain his mind. Video games for the literati. Where’s the earthiness, the visionary, the need to speak of the deep winds, both dark and light, that roar around the heart with the voices of our ancestors?

Jim Moore: Poems that seem to have no purpose other than to demonstrate their own ingenuity.

Richard Robbins: The exaggerated “centrality” of language poetry created by the Iowa/Harvard critical axis. Most of that stuff is what Richard Hugo used to call “a lot of over-worrying about the obvious.” The ever-expanding gulf created between community reading series (reasonably affordable means of allowing the public to access the literary arts) and the celebrity tours (with restricted public access and skyrocketing fees sent even higher by celebrity literary agents). The growing assumption that poetry publishing is not an enterprise supported by entities that take economic risks on manuscripts they believe in, but rather that poetry publishing is more like the NCAA basketball tourney pool, where all with man- uscripts will enter with a $10 fee and one will come away with the prize.

Katharine Soniat: How many of the “contests” and presses are focusing on incoherent language or experimental poetry seems to be the same judge (of this persuasion) for many national contests.

Virgil Suarez: The elitists are still elitists.

Thom Ward: How to get other human beings who are, in William Stafford’s phrase, “awake people” to wake up to reading and listening to more contemporary American poetry and poetry in translation. The good folks who attend local theater, art muse- ums, and jazz clubs, who take that occasional pottery class at the YMCA—how do we get more of these people (who have no ambi- tion to become poets) more interested in buying contemporary poetry books and literary journals and attending poetry readings, especially by “emerging” or “unknown” poets? Why do so few of these “awake people,” who speak intelligently about contempo- rary music and the visual arts, know and care so little about poetry?

Matthew Zapruder: A period style that consists of requisite ambiguity, complexity, genuflection to tired principles of post- modernism, and mystification, all of which cover up a lack of genuine commitment to an idea or emotion; a creeping profes- sionalization, especially among younger poets.





Ray González is TBR’s poetry editor.

Note: This is part 2 of a survey; part 1 will be found in the March/April issue of TBR, Vol. 24, #3 2004.

How Did Poetry Survive?

 New Verse Movement

Poetry, John Timberman Newcomb believes, has lost status in recent years. In the introduction to his new book, How Did Poetry Survive? The Making of Modern American Verse (University of Illinois Press), Newcomb argues that American poetry has been “segregat[ed] … from modern social experience” — with the result that poetry is hardly even considered “literature” anymore.

This isn’t the first time that American poetry’s star has waned. In How Did Poetry Survive?, Newcomb traces the genre’s changing fortunes at the turn of the 20th century, arguing that poets’ engagement with modern topics and “ordinary life” played a key role in their works’ return to widely acknowledged cultural relevance.


Newcomb, associate professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believes that this history merits study not only for the value of the works that have been largely forgotten, but also for the light it sheds on poetry’s current struggles — and its uncertain future.

Inside Higher Ed interviewed Newcomb via e-mail to find out more about his book.

Q: You write that your book differs from most other depictions of the emergence of modern American poetry. What is new or unusual about your account?

A: Most histories of modern American poetry written since around 1945 emphasize the stylistic innovations of the 1910s and 1920s, especially Imagism and free verse, and also focus narrowly on just a few canonical figures, as if they produced their great works in a vacuum. In contrast, mine balances an emphasis on formal innovation with American poets’ bold turn toward modern subject matter, especially the industrial city as the defining space of 20th-century experience. I also cast a much wider net than most, discussing works by dozens of poets, often juxtaposing well-known and nearly forgotten poems written on similar subjects in order to provide a more comprehensive sense of the variety and richness of the “New Poetry” movement.

Q: What does it mean to “make visible another possible past for modern American poetry,” and why is it important to do so?

A: In the decades after 1945, the number of early 20th-century American poets considered worth studying in an academic context diminished from dozens to just a few, which I consider a great loss to our sense of our own literature. In essence, the scholarship of the postwar era created a particular and rather narrow past for modern American poetry focused around a few titanic figures.

But if you look back at surveys of contemporary verse written before 1945, you find that a great many more poets were taken seriously as artists. It may be surprising to realize that among those eventually “lost” were some of the most popular writers of the day. Among many others, Carl Sandburg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Amy Lowell, Sara Teasdale, Vachel Lindsay, and even Robert Frost to some extent were dismissed from the academic canon, in part precisely because they were popular among a general reading public. I feel that a past that ignores writers so influential in their own time is woefully incomplete, and thus my work attempts to create a more inclusive and comprehensive version of American poetry’s past.

Another part of the lost past I hope to return to general awareness is the vast and rich vein of poetry that engaged the urgent social and political issues of the day. During the 1910s, the two most significant categories of this socially oriented verse dealt with the struggles of organized labor and the catastrophe of world war. By taking these poems seriously as works of art as well as historical documents, my book seeks to enhance our sense of modern poetry’s value as a form of social comment.

Q: “In 1850,” you write, “poetry was the central genre of American literary culture. Fifty years later it was widely viewed as a mawkish refuge for dilettantes and sentimentalists.” What was the cause of this seismic shift?

A: These 50 years were defined by breakneck change, in which the United States transformed itself from a predominantly rural confederation of states into a world power of industrial capitalism. Great cities grew, vast concentrations of wealth were accumulated, giant logistical systems were developed, newspapers and other consumer goods were marketed on a mass national scale, and new technologies drastically altered the pace and complexity of everyday life. While often exhilarating, such changes also created tremendous psychic disorientation, and that led to a need for refuge. In the years after the Civil War, poetry was seized upon as such a psychic refuge, the antithesis and ostensible antidote to the accelerating pace and growing impersonality of everyday experience. Its aging custodians, deploring the “unpoetic” times, clung to rules of form and elevated standards of diction codified decades or even centuries earlier, and demanded portrayals of American life in nostalgic pastoral imagery – as if by excluding the voices and spaces of the city they might nullify the destabilizing force of urban-industrial modernity.

Confined to this nostalgic and escapist role, poetry became less and less relevant to most people’s lives. By the mid-1890s, when the last of the revered “Fireside poets” died and no younger writers seemed worthy to assume their places, we begin to find numerous commentaries wondering whether literary poetry was, quite simply, obsolete in a world of hard-headed prose and instantly consumable cultural commodities such as dime novels and popular songs. The great achievement of the New Verse movement of the 1910s was to make poetry relevant again by immersing it into the spaces, technologies, and social dynamics of the modern city.

Q: You mention “poetry’s current disciplinary crisis in the American academy.” What is the nature of this crisis?

A: Since the advent of more historically-based approaches in the literary academy in the early 1990s, poetry has declined noticeably in its status among scholars of American literature relative to prose fiction and other forms of prose. In fact, one major book of scholarly essays on New Historicism and American literature contains no work dealing with poetry at all, as if “American literature” was to be understood entirely as American fiction. There’s a perception around that poetry and history don’t mix, or that poems don’t speak to historical contexts as vividly as prose works do. I don’t believe this is true, and I hope my book shows that many poems of the 1910s and 1920s spoke powerfully to the most pressing concerns of modern American life at that moment.

Q: Are there lessons from the “New Verse movement” for those who might like to see a “further revival [of American poetry] in the 21st century”?

A: Don’t turn your back on the world around you, or on history, or on “ordinary life.” I am not an expert in very recent American poetry so it’s presumptuous for me to say so, but some recent verse I’ve read seems primarily or entirely concerned with the inner life of the poet — his or her responses to the natural world, to works of art, to somewhat rarefied emotional states. Lyric poetry addresses these precious aspects of being human better than any other form of writing, and this will, I hope, never stop being the case. But poetry can and must also speak to the mundane, the political, the technological — to every aspect of 21st-century experience.

Poetry can also tell great stories: one recent work of narrative verse I would strongly recommend for its success in balancing the political, personal, and historical is David Mason’s Ludlow, which juxtaposes the story of a violent labor conflict in Colorado in the 1910s with the author’s reminiscences of childhood and his adult experiences.

Q: Who is your intended audience for this book? What do you hope they’ll take away from it?

A: I hope that students, teachers, and anyone else interested in 20th-century poetry would find the book illuminating, and I tried to avoid using overspecialized jargon that might make it less comprehensible or appealing to readers who aren’t specialists in the field.

I hope that readers would come away from it with a refreshed sense of how much lively and potent poetry was written during this era, much of it nearly unknown now. I also hope that at least one poet will appeal to readers so strongly that they will seek out more of that poet’s work.  One way to do this is to visit the companion web anthology that contains the full text of every poem mentioned in the book.


~ By Serena Golden


A 21st Century Dirge For America


Another dead song
for a dead man
a dead art in no
man’s land.


For Being REAL

As they stop the world,
Judge and destroy
all that which they
cannot make

Or see.   


Anarchy Archery Douche-Beggary
38 Flavors & Fifty Stars Officially

And nothing more.

For to say the least  it’s your
Apathy Banality Absolutely
An Analogy, Abruptly. America So
Blow Me
From Sea to Shining Sea &
Lovingly Bitterly Swallow Me

In Poverty


Or ?
You can
 Literally Be, Continue
In The Middle Or
See-Dream Of
Vespucci, Liberty With Symmetry
Synchronicity or Being


So Are We Truly  Free? 

Re-discovered or The Undiscovered Country
Land Of The Brave
That Has Never Truly Ever Seen



So America I ask you beg you 


Tax Me Take Me Fuck Me
Love Me And Then Silently Leave Me

In The Dark.

But Please,
Don’t Use Me, Tread On Me
Abuse Me or Ever Break My Heart


For Now
Lady Liberty is walking the streets
& Looking To Make A Buck, & Is  
Saying  “Heeeeeeeyyyy Chhhhiiiinnnna”

How Are You?

While, like an angry lover, 
Jealous, she watches your 



And Domestically, Majestically
And Carefully

She says ever so softly;


Democrat Republican Soccer Mom White or Black
Welcome to the Homeland The Tea Party & The 
Land Of The Numb


Once …


In This, This World 


And Not Merely

The Dead Sound, Dull Thud Of It,
As It’s Soul Is Bleeding Out.

(Don’t Tread On Me)