There has been considerable talk about poetry in the United States, not because people are reading it but because they aren’t. In an article in Commentary in August 1988, Joseph Epstein said that the neglect of poetry was the fault of the poets; they don’t write as well as the modernist poets of the early decades of the century. Many American poets teach in universities and this makes their writing academic and obscure . . . it has nothing to say to the common reader. A year later the poet Donald Hall published a rebuttal in Harper’s: he cited the large sales figures of some poets’ books, and he said there were many poetry readings. He seemed to think that American poetry was doing very well.

In May of this year, the poet Dana Gioia published an article in The...


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