by David Yezzi
The best books of poetry being published in the United States these days are not by Americans; they’re by Brits. For American readers of poetry—typically poets themselves, alas—this will come as a bitter pill, though I suspect few will quiet their amour-propre long enough to swallow it. The pat arguments against British poetry—too well-mannered, too mired in tradition—have become so pervasive and entrenched that one almost forgets that sceptered isle ever produced a Herbert or a Milton. (Never mind how much these two meant to Americans like Bishop and Lowell, respectively.)
Contemporary American poets like to sound American, as well they should. No one wants to read about blokes in Wichita tucking into steak and kidney pies at the Ferret and Trouserleg. For many American poets, however, capturing the way that English is spoken here and now is not the primary goal, or even a goal at all. A poem can only be truly American, they would argue, if pushed to some stylistic extreme, to a radical innovation of some kind; poetry must be willing to break though boundaries of precedence and even sense.