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Anis Shivani

Anis Shivani

Posted: December 17, 2010 09:08 AM

We asked some of the major American poets--winners of the biggest national awards, huge presences all, who they thought was the single most important contemporary poet, and what they thought was her/his influence on their own work and on the work of other contemporary poets. The answers delighted and sometimes surprised us, and we thank these poets for their participation in the lively discussion. The question of influence is a tricky one in the literary realm, but surely, if there are undeniable progenitors of today's collective poetry output, these are the ones.

H. L. Hix
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The most important contemporary poet is Adrienne Rich. In asking "Who is the most important contemporary poet?," Anis knows his question cannot be about ranking poets, as polls rank sports teams. The superlative in "Which is the best college football team this year?" is unconditional and exclusive. "Best" in relation to football teams means "would win against any other team," so there can be only one best team, and the question is about identifying that team. But "most important" in relation to poets might mean any number of things--having the widest influence, being allied with the most powerful person, having the largest audience--so the question is not about identifying which poet is most important, but about stipulating which meaning of "most important" is at stake. An answer doesn't give information about the poet, but about the meaning of the term "most important." In naming Adrienne Rich, then, when any number of names come to mind as apt answers, how do I mean the term "most important"? I mean most consistent and effective, over the longest period of time, at defying "Poetry makes nothing happen." I mean demonstrating how a capacious body of work can shape an elevating vision, and be shaped by an elevated vision, of humanity and justice and peace and respect. I mean living up to her own standard that poetry be "liberatory at its core," asking herself and her readers, and challenging us to answer with our better rather than our worse selves, the question "With whom do you believe your lot is cast?"

H. L. Hix 's books include Incident Light, Legible Heavens, God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse, and Chromatic. Read some of his poems... more
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