Too Many Poets?

(From “An Interview with Rita Dove” in The Writer’s Chronicle, December 2011 issue. Rita Dove is a former Poet Laureate of the United States and the editor of The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry, the first such book that I’ve read from cover to cover. In the past I’ve always dabbled in anthologies. This time I got hooked. Many of her choices reminded me of how close poems can be to songs. Here she responds to the suggestion that MFA programs produce assembly-line poetry. She could just as well be talking abut open mic poetry.)

“There can never be too much poetry. And if much of it can not overcome mediocrity, so what? Aren’t there hordes of amateur painters and pianists populating our civilization, bringing pleasure to themselves and those around them with no detrimental effect? Shall poetry be the only art form ordained to play itself out in the Elysian Fields? Although I wouldn’t be terribly surprised should the number of truly great poems remain fairly constant, rather than increase exponentially with the number of poets, I believe that among those growing stacks of well-intentioned, lesser specimen will be poems that can also entertain, nurture, and sustain the lives of their readers.”

— Rita Dove

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