My Philosophy on Poetry and Publishing
Given that many "ordinary" people learned to hate and
distrust poetry through their exposure to it in school, it's a
bit of an irony that poetry remains pretty much shackled to the ivy tower:
poets writing for other poets, MFA programs churning out official
poetry-writing credentials, and the Academy owning most of the presses
that publish poetry because (in fairness to the academic presses)
"commercial" publishers and literary agents don't believe they can
sell poetry books to ordinary readers.
I took this photo because I was so enchanted by that
play of light through Gothic windows as it framed the door on the opposite
wall. (Photo © Peggy Whiteneck.)
For years, I tried to break
into the iron ranks of this "po' biz" - the business of making and
managing the contacts and connections that will get a poet noticed
and published by the "gatekeepers" of the contemporary
poetry scene. I had been doing it uncritically,
accepting it as the price one has to pay to get one's poetry into the
hands of readers.
It was only when I started questioning that underlying
premise that I began to think more creatively about how to get my work "out there."
"Maybe breaking in means breaking out," I thought.
So I made a conscious decision: I want my work to be relevant and accessible to ordinary folks.
When they're faced with one of life's serial traumas, I
want them to reach for a poem - any poem, whether it's mine or someone else's - at least as quickly as they'd reach
for pills or bottle of booze. That this vision sounds so Quixotic
is, I believe, a measure of the depths of human irrelevancy to which
poetry as a genre has descended in our culture.
This doesn't mean I haven't found contemporary poets with academic affiliations
whom I believe have managed to slip the irons. Among my own favorites
are the late William Matthews, the late Jane Kenyon, Billy Collins, Kim Addonizio,
There are all sorts of ways to help poetry break its cultural shackles.
For me, it's been choosing non-traditional publishing venues for my poems (which, yes,
have included national periodicals even if very few of them have
been Academy-based literary magazines). And, of course, the Web is
a quintessentially populist medium - which is why I've included these
poetry pages on my web site (see poem links below).
Strike a Blow for Poetry's Freedom: Buy a Book!
Having said all that, I buy lots of poetry books by poets whose work
I cherish. These include, in addition to those I've mentioned, Brigit Pegeen
Kelly, Wislawa Szymborska, James Wright...Buying poetry books is really
the only way any of us has of breaking through publishers' reluctance to print them. So enjoy
the "free poems" on this website. (And, again, please do not
reproduce or publish my work, on the Web or anywhere else, without my
permission.) But then go to your local bookstore and strike a blow for
poetry's freedom: Buy a book by a poet whose work you love!
I'm also plesed to be able to say that, since I first launched this web page,
my first poetry collection has been published, From These Earthly Parts!
I hope, as you're buying poetry books, you'll consider buying my book, too!
Click on the Published Poems link at the top of the page for ordering information.