American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

A Disused Poet

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James Russell Lowell is for me the epitome of a perfectly good program uninstalled from most computers because the software is no longer supported. Which is to say: there are no more updates or fixes coming. And compatibility with other programs? Forget about it.

Yet some people — very few, it is true — still read him. Why? Here are some thoughts borrowed from the software world:

  • Many people read forgotten poets simply because they didn’t keep current or don’t read poetry very often.
  • Some actively choose to read forgotten poets. What are they thinking?
  • Contemporary writing is too difficult or too annoying. This is a common reason for sticking with Longfellow and Whittier.
  • Setting the old aside might risk values you need. Conceptual Writing is a good example. Its demands for attention and indifference to response caused accessibility problems for a number of users.
  • There’s a huge amount of nervousness around keeping up to date. It’s also difficult and time-consuming to find new poets. Why risk the search when the old standbys are just fine?
  • You’re busy and have better things to do. To be honest, this is often why I don’t read new poetry. I have my own work to do and a life to live. I just don’t have time to for non-essential reading.


Written by Ben Friedlander

June 18, 2015 at 8:47 am

Posted in forgotten poets

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