Well, I’m reading The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. I was a big Baker fan back when he had put out “U and I” and “The Mezzanine."
Coincidently, there's an online interview with him over at the Poetry Foundation website (HERE).
And here’s one of the questions and answers (fair use privileges being invoked):
"JN: Paul Chowder says there’s too much poetry being written.
“NB: It’s a feeling of simple unmanageability. So many poems every year. And the fearful onslaught of this much production, combined with the knowledge that you can’t possibly know where to find the gems, can be overwhelming. Hidden away in these tens of thousands of poems—that form a cresting wave that’s eternally tumbling over you—are the ones that will be in the anthologies of the future. They’re there but . . . but where? You need some time off—you’re splashing around. You need to find a rock and sit still for a bit."
This is, as we all know, a wildly optimistic view of current poetry. Perhaps closer to the truth is Brian Nolan’s heteronym, Myles of the Little Ponies. But if Nolan’s description is accurate, is his conclusion correct? Well, either Brian Nolan is right:
"Having considered the matter in – of course – all its aspects, I have decided that there is no excuse for poetry. Poetry gives no adequate return in money, is expensive to print by reason of the waste of space occasioned by its form, and nearly always promulgates illusory concepts of life. But a better case for the banning of all poetry is the simple fact that most of it is bad. Nobody is going to manufacture a thousand tons of jam in the expectation that five tons may be eatable. Furthermore, poetry has the effect on the negligible handful who read it of stimulating them to write poetry themselves. One poem, if widely disseminated, will breed perhaps a thousand inferior copies."
Or all the bad poetry is necessary for the production of the good poetry.
For example, a gold mine would be considered major, quite rich, if it produced 5 grams of gold per ton of rock. That’s five grams of gold for every 907,185 grams of non-gold, or a yield of approximately 0.00055%.
If each gram of gold represents one good poem, then that poem is the product of 39,437 bad poems. This might seem extreme, but if you were to analyze, all the poems in Poetry Magazine from 1918 through 1938, and honestly only count the truly verifiably good poems, I imagine the ratio of 1:39,437 might be a little harsh, but it certainly wouldn’t be wrong by significant margin of error.
Any one of us might write a poem that can be read ninety years later and still be enjoyed without hedging. But the truth is almost none of us will write such a poem. For most of us, all the poems we write during our entire lives will be considered quaint, of the period, and ridiculous, nine decades later, if they will be extant at all.
Consequently, it is a great comfort to browse Volume XIII of Poetry Magazine. Here is a list of the names of poets published in this volume:
Helen Louise Birch
Louise Morey Bowman
Isabel Howe Fiske
Louise Ayres Garnett
Richard Butler Glaenszer
Julia Wickham Greenwood
Marion Ethel Hamilton
D. H. Lawrence
Robert M. McAlmon
Antoinette De Coursey Patterson
John Cowper Powys
Arthur D. Rees
Lew R. Sarett
Marjorie Allen Seiffert
Charles L. Sherwood
Florence D. Snelling
Howard Crawford Stearns
Anna Spencer Twitchell
B. K. Van Slyke
G. O. Warren
William Carlos Williams
William Butler Yeats
The best news about this list is that if your name was Louise in 1918, you had a 1 in 13 chance of being published in Poetry.
The less noble reassurance is that almost all the poets (90%) you envy (gnaw, gnaw, gnaw) for having published in Poetry will be swept away in the same flood of time that carries you to oblivion. Life is good.
But this view, venal as it is, is itself wildly optimistic. If recent and expensive surveys (and is there anything better to spend money on than surveys? There is not.), then no one will be reading poetry ninety years hence, because no one will be reading anything. This puts your miserable little self-published chapbook on par with Silliman's tremendous The Alphabet.
Conclusion: Let us rededicate ourselves to this pursuit. We are brothers and sisters of the ephemeral.