Contemporary poetry recommendations?
April 12, 2012 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Contemporary poetry with an older feel?

I like older poetry of various kinds, everything from the Romantics through the Modernists and the Confessional and "Movement" poets,* but after the 1960s almost everything I've read leaves me cold. I would really like to get into some current poets (say, the last 20 years or so) and I'm hoping for some recommendations. My main issues are:

- I don't like free verse, or rather I don't like the extremely free verse that seems to dominate now. I realize that a lot of the poets I allude to above wrote some free verse, but it feels like they were still paying a lot more attention to meter and rhyme than most free verse does today -- and even then, I often prefer their more formal output. I don't need everything to be Rudyard Kipling-style sing-songiness, but I need a certain amount of lyricism, meter and rhyme to really enjoy a poem.

- I don't like anything too topical, too self-consciously "difficult," or with more than a hint of academic theory or identity politics -- not that I have a problem with these things in general, they're just not my taste in poetry. (And again, I know that some of the older poets I like were engaging the topical issues and identity politics of their day, but for whatever reason -- maybe just the passage of time -- it doesn't grate the same way.)

- On the other extreme, I feel like once you turn away from that poetry slam-type material (young/topical/identity/etc) a lot of the other current poetry I see is just kind of ...comfortably dull? Like, trying to be clever or profound about the minutiae of everyday life. I don't get the sense of real emotional engagement or vulnerability that I do from the older stuff.

I was intrigued to read about the "New Formalism" movement, but I don't know where to start with it, and also it seems to have somewhat fizzled out...? Who were the best poets of that group? And who are the other poets and publications I should be looking at?

*(I want to keep the question general but if it helps, here are a few particular favorites: Coleridge, Poe, Dickinson, John Clare, Rupert Brooke, Stephen Crane, AE Housman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, EE Cummings, WH Auden, XJ Kennedy, Philip Larkin ...and a good example of a later free-verse-but-formal poet that I still like is Richard Hugo)
posted by pete_22 to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Two poets who seem like they'd be worth checking out, given your parameters, are Geoffrey Hill and Kay Ryan. Those links take you to their pages at the Poetry Foundation's site; if you scroll to the bottom, you'll see links to some poems by them that you can read there.
posted by Levi Stahl at 6:55 AM on April 12, 2012

Glyn Maxwell is a poet (and playwright & novelist) whose work 'is noted for its everyday vocabulary, used in tight metrical forms.'
posted by misteraitch at 7:41 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely Richard Wilbur, if you don't already know him. He was writing poetry before the 60's, but he's still publishing. This is one of my favorites.
posted by this roof at 7:46 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was planning to recommend Kay Ryan when I read the question, so I'm now seconding Levi Stahl, above. Marilyn Hacker is a wonderful formal poet. You might also like Annie Finch, who is the editor of this anthology, which I recommend you check out (hah, I see it's also recommended on the New Formalism wikipediaAnnie Finch page).
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:53 AM on April 12, 2012

Sorry about the weird-ass link placement there--don't quite know what happened (although the link itself is A-OK).
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:55 AM on April 12, 2012

Paul Muldoon and current English Laureate Carol Ann Duffy might be up your alley. Rhymers both.
posted by Iridic at 8:00 AM on April 12, 2012

Mary Jo Salter


Torn from the moorings of sleep
one morning, grasping not even a scrap
of whatever I was dreaming,
I realize, as I rise from the billowing
sail of the pillow, and sink again,
that I myself am wreckage
from the ship that smashed miraculously
the instant it broke
consciousness; am driftwood
toyed with at the edge of the tide,
a floating, disembodied arm
left to record the dream
it does not remember, while all the other
passengers heavily go down
to an oblivion where no
plumb line of a memory
of having had a memory
can reach. I alone on the beach
am real, and stand at last to fill
the funnel of the coffee filter
with spooned black heaps of sand,
watch as the hourglass spills the grains
of millions of associations
drop by drop in the O
of sentience that swells to a runnel,
smells like thought and is drinkable
and clarifies the thinking:
so early it's already too late
to say I never wanted to cross
into a wholly rational state,
to upend the coffee grounds like a sand
castle into the sink and rise
to the occasion of day, another
impermanent construction washed
down the drain; didn't want to dissolve
in the shower now these unseen cells
in the foam - little parts of the selves
I can't be part of anymore;
didn't want to walk away dry.
posted by zahava at 8:22 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe Derek Walcott?
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:53 AM on April 12, 2012

Anthony Burgess wrote four novels in The Enderby Series, about a reclusive poet who composes in a sort of faux Elizabethan era style, and who is dragged against his inclinations into interacting with the 20th Century World outside of his bathroom. Burgess includes various samples of his character's poetry, which are quite lovely in their own way.
posted by ovvl at 4:55 PM on April 12, 2012

I heartily recommend Scottish poet Eleanor Brown, a true descendant of Millay and Parker. She only has one book out, Maiden Speech, published by Bloodaxe. It contains mythology, love, razor-sharp wit and cake.

John M. Ford was a writer of extremely good fiction and formal poetry. His collection Heat of Fusion and Other Stories contains both. Of his verse, the easiest works to find online are 110 Stories (his response to Sept 11 2001); Winter Solstice, Camelot Station, a fantasia involving knights and trains; and his sonnet Against Entropy.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:53 PM on April 12, 2012

Mark Jarman is a New Formalist whose work has definitely not fizzled out. Start with The Unholy Sonnets.
posted by joannemerriam at 9:04 PM on April 12, 2012

I was going to recommend Geoffrey Hill. Mostly his older stuff - a lot of the work from the past couple of decades has been more formally experimental - but that said, he's put out a few books in the past couple of years that stick to fairly rigid forms. He jokes that this is a way of reassuring himself that he's not suffering from dementia.

He does take a lot of effort to read, and makes a lot of demands - but it's worth it. I've been reading him for years and still feel that I've barely scratched the surface.
posted by Ted Maul at 1:42 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

He's not as formal as Wilbur, but James Merrill may indulge that need.
posted by Arquimedez Pozo at 2:21 PM on April 13, 2012

A few months ago, jamjam recommended James Merrill's An Urban Convalescence, which I loved. (Go read the whole thing - the shift halfway through is so cool.)

I am also a huge fan of Wendy Cope - "The Orange" on that page is one of my favorites. As you'll be able to see in that small collection, she's quite handy with form - Roger Bear's Philosophical Pantoum is another of my favorites.

Over in a thread about not liking free verse I posted about several Billy Collins poems I like and also some other recent poetry I like (including Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, and John Brehm).

I've found several poems I like in the Poetry 180 collections (there are two published collections, if you prefer hard copy) and also in the Garrison Keillor-edited anthologies Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times. I'm not particularly a fan of Keillor, but I've found some fine poems in those two books.
posted by kristi at 12:07 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Taking Spanish lessons in Central America?   |   Homebrew - Four Loko / Joose clone recipe Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.