Earlier this week, Seth Abramson posted a list on HuffPo Books entitled “The Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry.” Abramson readily admits that his list is not perfect; he states, “I want to emphasize that the list below is neither exhaustive nor authoritative nor superlative.” And still, he managed to piss a whole bunch of folks off through omission or through the mere fact that he had the temerity to make a list.
It was interesting to watch it all unfold from the sidelines. I had no horse in the race, except that I would definitely add at least three names to the list: Peggy Shumaker, Kate Gale, and David Biespiel. I was intrigued by the names on the list, pleased that I knew and agreed with some, and interested to make the acquaintance of others of whom I’d never heard.
I was sad that Abramson’s goal seem to go unapplauded – to highlight those who do their best to advocate for poetry. This type of literary citizenship is all too often under-appreciated. And yet, if you ask anyone with a book of poetry out there on the shelves of bookstores (and probably a whole bunch of poets who haven’t published a book yet), you’d hear that no one gets there alone. Every successful poet has had someone (or several someones) helping them along, either personally or through what I feel is a burgeoning renaissance of poetry in our culture. (We can argue that later.)
So how does one go about being an advocate of poetry? Think bigger than yourself. Read poetry and suggest it to others, review it, talk about it, heck, even carry poetry books around so people can see the cover. Buy poetry. Teach a class. Write a poetry blog that isn’t hermetic and insular. Go to readings, hold readings, help other poets give readings. Hold poetry events for other people! Scribble other people’s poems on index cards and leave them in the grocery store as a surprise. Review poetry books, either online, in print, or on GoodReads, Amazon.com, or Powells.com. Use social media to discuss poetry, praise a poet, connect one poet to another. Read and critique poetry for other poets. Be part of discussion group. Suggest a poetry column for your local newspaper. Write it. Read poetry with little kids. Or big kids. Or adults. Publish other people’s poetry. Cram poetry into every part of your life, so that it’s ready at every moment to be pulled out and showed off.
Mostly, bring your passion for poetry with you and share it. Help other poets every chance you get.