Events & Reviews


I’m a soon-to-be graduate of an M.F.A. program in creative writing. All I have left to do is teach a few classes, defend my thesis, and read a few books. Oh. And I’ve also been tasked to write a report on a poetry reading. This last point is why I’m writing to you now.

Let me backtrack for a moment though to tell you that before I was an M.F.A. student, I was an undergraduate working my way towards a B.A. in creative writing and a B.S. in advertising. Before that, I was a teenager that lived with my father, who was a professor, and my mother, who was an English major. My mother took her major very seriously, and as a result I began reading Poe, Melville, Plath, Tennyson, and other “canonical” writers at a very young age.

In short, I’m no stranger to poetry.

However, after going to the Hoa Nguyen reading at the University of Colorado at Boulder on February 21st, I realized that I don’t really “get” poetry. Or rather, I kind of “get” poetry, as much as it’s possible to be “gotten,” but I don’t “get” poetry readings.

After the reading, I confronted a friend about my dilemma: having to write a piece on something I don’t really understand. He recommended I read the VICE article by Glen Coco titled: “I Don’t ‘Get’ Art.” I ripped off the title, but what choice did I have when Coco said it so well the first time? Coco’s title is modest. It blames no one but Coco himself for his inability to “get” art.

There are others, however, who are more hostile towards poetry and its various, associated artifacts.


With the whole Lena Dunham Girls craze sweeping the nation, I thought I’d watch her film, Tiny Furniture. What particularly stuck out to me about the film was a statement one of the characters made about poetry. It went, “Poetry is a very stupid thing to be good at. Poems are basically like dreams–something that everybody likes to tell other people but nobody actually cares about when it’s not their own. Which is why poetry is a failure of the intellectual community.”

These are not my words. These are not necessarily my sentiments. These are someone else’s words, someone else’s opinion.

Dunham’s sentiments, or at least the sentiments of her characters in Tiny Furniture, got me thinking: if Dunham—who is undeniably making a mark in popular culture (how permanent that mark will ultimately be is another question entirely)—feels this way about poetry, how many other people share her sentiments?

If I were to answer this question based on the turnout alone for Hoa’s reading, I would say that not many people share Dunham’s attitude towards poetry. I think every seat in the room, or pretty close to it, was filled. However, this reading was on campus, so one has to ask: how many people were there of their own volition? I ask this because it’s common practice for graduate instructors and professors of creative writing to require their undergraduates to attend a certain number of readings throughout the semester and have them submit write-ups on the events. The reason this requirement is common practice gets caught up in issues of funding, branding, and other politics, which are all highly volatile topics that I believe should be acknowledged in this conversation but that I have no desire to provoke further.

To rephrase, there was a good turn out for Hoa’s reading. A former student, who clearly admired Hoa, introduced the poet. The introduction’s focus regarded a house party at which both Hoa and the student had been in attendance. The only line I recall from the introduction was this: “As I went to get another beer, I heard [Hoa] say, ‘Do you like Eric Dolphy?’”

After the introduction, Hoa began to read. “This is a poem that starts with and,” she began. This poem was then followed by “another poem beginning with and.” After that, Hoa implored us to write fucked up poems; “you know, cabbaged.” At one point, the poet began singing. The song went: “Roger has died and gone to his grave.” Repeat.

Some of Hoa’s poems spoke out about global warming and the state of the environment in general: “Mound. Native. Poverty. Ravine… Sharecropper. Trust. Vine.” A few of her other poems touched on capitalism: “My toilet seats are new and made in China,” and, “It’s simpler now, you just die in the office.” Then, “There are no free popsicles!” and finally, “This place we are in is a place. Broil the asparagus.”

Afterwards came the Q & A.

The first question: how many sentences do you write when you sit down to write something? I didn’t write Hoa’s answer to that one.

The second question: a speech regarding the history of Surrealism, which somehow eventually managed to turn a corner and become a question. Hoa’s answer demonstrated that she just so happened to know a thing or two about the Surrealist movement and its situational chronology, too.

The third question was mine: “Do you feel your poems gain or lose anything when they’re read aloud as opposed to when they’re encountered by the reader on the page?” Hoa’s answer: “[When I attend a reading] it’s interesting to hear how the author reads it versus how I read it in my head. Sometimes, I’m like, ‘I can read your poem better than you [the author].’ When [poems are] read aloud, there’s a vibrational relationship… The way I deliver them… [You wouldn’t know from reading my poems things] like [how you should] be singing that one part.”

The final question: “I’ve read all your work… Before, in your poems, I felt they were evocative, beautiful, experimental. Now, they feel more accessible.” I didn’t write the answer to that one either, but it brings me to the keyword upon which this essay hinges: accessibility.

Earlier, I said that if I were to answer the question “How many people share Dunham’s attitude towards poetry?” based on the turnout alone for Hoa’s reading, I would have to say “not many.” This question, however, was too troubling for me to allow it to be answered by appearances alone. I wanted to hear from the people themselves, so I conducted several interviews afterwards. I’ve included some of the responses I received below.

These responses are not my words. These responses do not necessarily reflect my sentiments. These responses are comprised of someone else’s words, someone else’s opinion.

“There were certain lines I enjoyed, but I feel like her stories [that she told in between reading her poems] were more interesting.”

“The idea of a poetry community ends up feeling elitist because you identify as a poet instead of [simply using poetry as a medium through which you say:] ‘This is how I express myself.’”

“I feel like poetry is trying to keep out basic, conversational language. Metaphor feels dead. It’s been done.”

“The problem with poetry is that it’s a medium that’s only accessible to other ‘poets.’”

The response that really stuck out to me was this:

“We’re introduced to poetry as it relates to the concept of the rhyme at a young age. We all read and loved Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss and to us, that’s what poetry was. Then, when we encounter it later in high school or college, we learn that rhyming is bad and so are clichés. This new poetry is hard to understand, and we still love Shell Silverstein.”

As an instructor of an intro to creative writing course, this question really resonated with me. Every semester, I see the blank stares wash over my students’ faces when I present them with a contemporary poem by the likes of Aase Berg or Sawako Nakayasu. Every semester, when I ask them to bring a poem that they like to class, I’m showered with works like “Casey at the Bat,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” and every now and then a piece by Poe, Plath, Whitman, or Cummings. There’s nothing wrong with any of these poems or authors, but there is something problematic about the spread: these poems are all several decades old, and their authors are dead.

I think this generalization points to a shift that has occurred in poetry. It seems that at some point, poetry went underground. It went quietly and without a going away party. It forgot to send Christmas cards. So, it stands to reason that when poetry showed up again at its high school reunion twenty years later, no one recognized it anymore. Poetry spoke a different language, and no one at the reunion knew how to converse with it beyond the small talk anymore. But that’s not to say that poetry didn’t have friends because it did. It had underground friends that understood poetry and spoke its new, underground language.

There’s nothing wrong with the new poetry. It’s just intimidating. This should be understandable. It’s only human to feel intimidated by something you don’t “get.” I wonder though, if that’s the approach that poetry really wants to take. But what do I know about poetry? Not much. All I know is that we’re living in a time of great accessibility. Our news no longer comes to our doorstep but to our phones, often in the form of two-minute videos. If we want to watch a movie, we no longer need to take a drive; all we need to do is click, and Netflix, Hulu, or HBO will deliver. If we don’t know how to get wine out of a carpet, we no longer have to call our mothers; we can just ask Google.

I’m not advocating for poetry to change. It doesn’t need botox or rhinoplasty. Poetry’s beautiful just the way it is. I guess all I’m trying to say is that, deep down, everyone likes getting invited to the party and being asked if they like Eric Dolphy.


Bethany Prosseda is currently having a difficult time describing herself. She’s about to graduate from CU Boulder’s MFA program, so she’s not quite a grad student. She isn’t quite sure what her next move will be, so she can’t describe herself by telling you about her career. What she can tell you is that her reviews have appeared in HTMLGIANT and Rain Taxi, she spends too much time watching cat videos on YouTube, and she’s very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of CU’s MFA program.

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      Hey, Bethany, You should read Adam Phillips’s “On Not Getting it,” an essay in his new book called Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. –Josh

  2. gingersnap222

      It’s Shel.

  3. Vanessa A Villarreal

      I think it’s ‘Shel Silverstein.’

  4. Bill Knott

      Dunham and the anon students you quote echo my confusion when i try and fail to understand/appreciate such intimidations, but what do i know (

  5. PedestrianX

      I recommend that anyone who wants to enjoy poetry but thinks they don’t get it read Patricia Lockwood. Maybe start by reading her Twitter, which is amazing, or the many online articles about her Twitter “sexts.” If you’re still on board after that, check out her poems. There are quite a few poems available online where she has some explanation of the process that led her to write them, like her poem about dunking that she wrote for Slate. I especially recommend the poems “When We Move Away From Here, You’ll See a Clean Square of Paper Where His Picture Hung,” because I think it’s her best poem, and “Nabokov
      Attempts a Doublet at Seventy-Four,” because it’s her most normal and accessible poem, but also amazing. If you read all these things and still don’t get poetry, then just go about your life, but I honestly think she could be a bridge for a lot of people who don’t see the appeal. At the very least follow her on Twitter.

  6. Nederlo Creek

      Bethany, The Tiny Furniture quote is spot on, the first sentence excepted. Most poetry reading fails the accessibility test because most poets aren’t performers. They just stand up there and read poems interspersed with stories. That’s why, as you observe, the stories usually best the poems.

      Poets seem not to understand that the expression of their craft began with music. Words on paper came much later. Thus, unless the poet was a performer they received jeers or worse from the audience. Therefore, for many of the reasons you point out, the very worst place to attend a poetry reading is in a university setting, whilst the very best is in a bar, preferably a noisy bar. If the poet is good enough to subdue the background noise in a bar, then maybe they’re also worth hearing (maybe).

      A couple evenings ago I attended a Kate Greenstreet reading. The setting sucked; one of those university classrooms reminiscent of ancient oil paintings of medical students peering down at a dissection. There was a sound problem. The lighting was very bright fluorescent (would you knowingly attend a concert where the intensity of the house lights equaled those on the performers?).
      Nevertheless, Greenstreet’s talent overcame most of that. But, perhaps I say that but only because I’ve endured a lot of readings and somehow can manage to filter out the surroundings.

      You “get it”, btw, because of your doubts about getting it. If a writer isn’t insecure, they’re not in the ballpark. Cheers,

  7. Jake Levine

      even understanding normal forms of expression is difficult these days, to understand abstract forms of expression, which have increasingly become more abstract to accommodate our low level attention spans is fucking almost next to impossible. the v & a had a retrospective on bowie. the lacma had one on coppola. i walked by modigliani, picasso, warhol and basquiat and there was no one around. everyone was too busy looking at pictures of things coppola thought of before he made his art. art is shit. the shit people have to love the shit. we have to learn to love the shit. eat the shit. breathe the shit. to stare at a picture of a sketch of a proof to the movie version of a clockwork orange is more interesting than giacometti for most people. this is not hard to understand. etc… whatever… poetry is hard. poetry readings mostly suck. etc… reoccurring html giant // student // mfa program // theme. read milosz’s speech accepting the nobel. poetry is difficult. it was never popular. forget the soviet union.

  8. Jake Levine

      p.s: stop watching cat videos on you tube.

  9. deadgod

      To the extent that “poetry” is ‘artful use of language’, every language user respects, likes, and desires “poetry” in their life.

      Every language user makes “poetry”, less or more culturally formal, more or less well.

      That this attention can be cultivated–or can’t not be–, and that forms of cultivation emerge as repellently elitist… well, hell.

      Fuck off, elitist motherfuckers!

      That’s the spirit.

  10. Not getting modern poetry readings | Rooktopia

      […] Just an aside: I ran across this fantastic piece from today’s NaPoWriMo link, HTML Giant written by Bethany Prosseda: “I don’t ‘get’ poetry readings”. […]

  11. Scott Paxton

      Stop sucking the academic straw. For Christ sake, stop bleating. Underground is an excuse. It says, ‘no one understands me, so what I write is naturally superior and unimaginable”. Aristocratic swine. Your days of capitalistic ownership will be over soon. Let the wilderness strike its match.

  12. Jeremy Hopkins

      WTF is Eric Dolphy?

  13. Mark Folse

      The question is, what else do you teach besides Berg (know, like, difficult) or Nakayasu (don’t know, just listened to PennSound samples, at an open mic she would be a good time to piss and get another beer) instead of Yusef Komunyakaa or Nisi Oyundare? Poetry can be accessible, even as superficially simple as Nakayasu and still be powerful. Perhaps its just a failure of Western culture. Osundare was the Poet Laureate of the last Olympics and writes a weekly newspaper column on poetry in his native Nigeria which receives sacks of mail in reply. Why do young writers (and I think of Giant as a young writers blog, and myself as the old man in the corner muttering into his coffee) eat slow, organic food in their hemp clothes and not consider, slow, organic poetry? Is it academia? (I don’t even have my bachelors in English at 55, and have avoided poetry classes since I returned to school to finish, especially creative writing classes). Is it the club that poetry has come, a goldfish swallowing contest of poetic contortions and rambling journal entries? Why not teach (or emulate) Timothy Donnelly, in my humble opinion one of the great poets of the current day? The Cloud Corporation says as much about the angst of our age in one book as a mile-high stack of chapbooks, and does so with an unabashed debt to Eliot and Stevens but in a language suitable for the corporate huddle room?

  14. Mark Folse

      And I love the Eric Dolphy reference (love Dolphy and Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra) because the problem is so much the same. And I also love John Coltrane as his balladeer best as much as I do when he goes wild.

  15. Trey

      has someone already pointed out that the quote from Tiny Furniture is from a character who writes poetry, apparently in earnest, and has just won a major high school poetry prize? oh, also the character is in high school. I think, in context, it’s hard to take the quote too seriously. I laughed when she said it.

  16. lydia Kius

      i personally don’t attend random poetry readings and sit there expecting to be entertained as though i was at a rock concert. Usually when I am at a reading it is because i am a fan and hope to be able to converse with the poet after the reading or sometimes just be in their presence – awkwardness and all. The poet need not to perform – when he/she has already inspired me.

  17. Lina Ramona Vitkauskas

      Exhausting: The need to have an answer for everything, the need to understand everything is the problem here—look, life is poetry. All you “get” is one, so quit trying to analyze it. Enjoy the ride, enjoy its mystery, enjoy the sounds/ words/ideas/images. -That- is poetry. It can be about everything and nothing simultaneously.

      I believe that the need to know everything causes one to be constantly depressed and dissatisfied with everything. Concentrate on whether or not you “get” the real-life events happening around you and throughout our world. Don’t worry about “getting” poetry—worry about “getting” a job (of which there are none for anyone graduating with an MFA in poetry). 

Avital Ronell once said:

      “It’s very devastating this craving for meaning.”


      Jodorwosky said “I cease to exist when I say that’s what I am.” 

      Quit trying to define. 

Buddhism teaches us to never accept anything as grounded, stable. Once you accept that the state of existence is perpetual groundlessness, that there are no definitive “answers,” that we constantly evolve as human beings—then you will still not “get” poetry, but enjoy it, at least enough, to not try and explain it in a Tweet-sized package to your friends or your mom.

      One of the finest poets of our time writes poems that many assert are about nothing but the beautiful language arrangements he constructs. -That- is what makes his work a mystery and treasure.

      “…discovering Mr. Ashbery’s poems in college was “like the first time you see a Godard movie when you’re 19. You just go, ‘Huh.’ And it never leaves you.” (quoting John Yau)

      Also, this whole article may be a hoax/sham or for fun to stir conversation, but it highlights the fact that, in general, the collective experience of being human is loston certain people—even if poems don’t move you or affect you, that doesn’t mean it won’t affect/appeal to someone else. The Lena Dunham dream reference: I’ve had many people share their dreams with me, and I have found it amazing and exhilarating at times to share in their experience or discuss the bigger picture of the subconscious. The human brain and how it works is quite humbling.

      The problem here, too, is flat-out selfishness…the “what’s in it for me?” attitude.

      “If I don’t get it, it doesn’t mean anything, whatever.”

  18. Accessibility & Poetry | Impossible Place

      […] I read Bethany Prosseda’s blog post I Don’t ‘Get’ Poetry, reporting that a lot of people feel the major fault of contemporary poetry lies in its not being […]

  19. Jeffery Bahr

      My favorite of Trish’s is still one of her first: The Book of Watchers. I’m trying to find in online . . .

  20. JosephYoung

      dead poets are easier to get b/c they are dead, our culture has already ate them and they are part of our stomach and brain pan. getting brand new things is harder. lotsa people don’t get Girls yet. teachers help people get things and also people who make tv shows. oh yeah, rothko is in mad men, i get it now. culture moves on….

  21. Chuck Taylor

      I realized poetry was for me a substitute for religion, and going to poetry readings was something I did instead of church. I hear a lot of bad performed poems. When I was a kid I heard a lot of bad sermons. Still, enough illumination of the soul, and enough human contact, comes from readings and reading to keep me going to readings maybe twice a month and readin’ poetry books, and enough good laughter and other audience response keeps me doing readings. Sometimes I slip in a flash fiction or flash CNF. I have friends who have the same hostility to art, and poetry, as they do to religion. I don’t hang with these friends often because mostly what they do for entertainment is walk around malls and shop. Me, I don’t “get” malls, thoughtI do use them in summer for excercise when it’s too hot. As far as the remark about dreams and poetry from “Tiny Furniture,” I don’t get sports either, though I do like working the body, maybe on a building project. I rarely write dream poems. I see it as a snark remark of an MFA in fiction turned screenwriter who just wanted to get a jab in. Actors just memorize lines. It’s not their ideas. What’s killing poetry is too many upper upper middle class MFA’s who go on and on about their trips to Rome and Paris.

  22. Hannah Stephenson

      I appreciate the author’s openness about this topic, and I think it can open up an honest discussion. I hear a bit of fear in this piece–the fear that poetry readings are a place to perform our weirdness in order to earn coolness points, the fear that everyone is in on this thing that we are outside of if it doesn’t resonate with us.

      I have a lot to say about this. (Apologies.)

      (Without seeming obnoxious, I have to point something about about the Lena Dunham quote….it was a character that said this, right? Not Lena Dunham herself, who was a poetry editor once: Even if she had said it, I’m with the commenter who said this is a funny moment.)

      Ok, all that aside (which isn’t my main concern). Some poetry readings are really weird. Some are weird in great ways. Some are weird in very uncomfortable, unfortunate ways. Some are not weird at all….they showcase a poet engaging with her audience, really sharing work (that they have written, or that they love) in a generous, engaging, vulnerable way.

      I think of poetry readings as concerts–as much variation as there is between concerts (and artists), there is at least that much variation between readings. I have seen Damien Jurado play in a variety of venues—one was the size of a living room. He was there to play songs for people who loved his songs, and chatted after. It was wonderful. No pretension here.

      Now, I also went to see Jandek play once. He is a weirdo (it delights me), and I went knowing this. It was a completely uncomfortable situation (which, actually, I still loved!), but I know that people around me were like, “Um…..What. Is. Happening.” (During one song, he was yelling out, “The knife…….the KNIFE. THE KNIFE!!!” And the gal in front of me leaned over to her friend and whispered, “He’s playing all our favorites!”). This concert was not for everyone. In fact, I went alone. That’s ok! Not everyone wants to be screamed at about knives. Only some of us.

      Before I embraced reading my own work out loud, I thought, you know, poetry can’t be appreciated aloud because there’s no time to DIGEST it, and we need to see it on the page…

      It’s just not true. Now, it’s not appreciated in the same way…attending a reading different experience than reading poems alone (a concert, which we go to with other people, is very different than listening to an album alone at home). In addition to hearing the poet read, there is so much to learn and appreciate in a reading–we learn what we don’t like, as readers, yes. But we look around, and see a whole room of people who are excited about words and ideas….here are OUR PEEPS! To me, it’s always so freaking heartening…..we are all here, we are all curious together. Like any art, we come to poetry to see something that helps us live (not just poems of BIG BEAUTY….also, maybe especially, small, silly, demented, hideous poems help us).

      I guess what I’m rambling about is that there is room for all kinds of writing and all kinds of readings. We learn our preferences and what resonates with us by attending these readings, and being open to experiences. Poetry readings get unfairly labeled as pretentious and not caring about the audience–yes, some of those exist (and some people even enjoy those, so, yay, good for them).

      But what a missed opportunity it would be to swear off concerts after one experience being screamed at about knives! Don’t be scared off by the experience you described in this article, Bethany Prosseda. Have you been to many other readings? Go to bunches before you decide what you enjoy most (and don’t write off this experience, which might end up being completely inspiring and enjoyable for you). Maybe share your own work out loud.

      We learn something by hearing work read aloud in a human voice. I think about Jordan Scott reading from blert, a poetics of stuttering (, or the soothing, calm, loveliness of Jane Hirshfield’s voice ( or the matter-of-fact comfort with which Lucille Clifton addresses her listeners (, or the furtive, unnerving playfulness of Heather Christle ( or the friendly generosity of Scott Woods (….

      So much here for us. Let us not be scared of what we think we can’t identify with.

  23. dolan morgan
  24. deadgod

      quit trying to analyze it

      It’s fun to try to analyze the need to have an answer for everything.

      The definitive answer of universal instability–why not?! Paradox can be illuminative, and fun.

      Telling people what to do: that’s great fun.

      idgi whatevs

  25. Gordon Hilgers

      I wasn’t familiar with the poetry of Hoa Nguyen before reading this, so I investigated. The best answer I can come-up with is that some poems speak better than others, and though Nguyen is quite adept at wordplay, the better spoken-word poets direct their composition towards an audience that is going to be listening rather than reading. Nguyen’s poems seem to be surrealist contemplations that I’d never read to an audience because, when an audience is listening, the words pass by too quickly for listeners to contemplate various nuances and connotations evident in Nguyen’s poems.

      I myself get pretty darned weirded-out when academic-bound poets, obviously ignoring the age-old understanding of poetry as a spoken tradition, force us into appreciating poetry not designed to be heard. The very best spoken word readings I’ve experienced, like when Laurence Ferlinghetti read at SMU’s McFarland Auditorium in the early 1990s, come usually from poets who aren’t part of the ever cutting-edge “canon” deemed acceptable by people who teach but do not necessarily feel. Ferlinghetti grabbed the audience by the collar, used his voice as an instrument, created stunningly off-beat tonalities as if to crack the conventionality of typical speech and displayed spoken artistry that augmented his written artistry.

      That said, I know spoken word poets and slam poets who could absolutely demolish the wry cats who arrive with a resume. Those who have a marked aversion to “the academy” have an urban definition of those with MFAs: they carry the title of Mother-F’ing Poet. Not all of them, but sometimes….

  26. Bucky Sinister

      Would you go to one concert, and say you didn’t “get” music? or the same with film?

      Hoa’s an academic. Most poets I personally know hate this arena for poetics. You’ve seen one genre you and I definitely don’t get, but don’t write off all poetry readings. I’ve been going to readings since 1987. There’s all kinds. Most of them, however, I don’t go near. For example, poetry slams drive me nuts, but hey, there’s a whole room of people at every one of them who love it. So can I say it’s bad if a hundred people say it’s good? Subjectively, I can say whatever I want. Bad and good readings are a matter of your own taste.

      With poetry, I think anyone will only find a small sliver of what’s out there to his or her liking. It’s such a matter of taste. I’m sure Hoa would think I’m a useless, uncrafted hack. And I think her writing is contrived and overwritten. It’s fair. We have drastically different approaches to creativity and art.

  27. Alicia Cohen

      I don’t blame the integrity of theoretical physics when I can’t
      immediately wrap my mind around it. Why do you feel so comfortable
      pointing the finger at poetry you don’t understand instead of at
      yourself? It takes me
      about five years to *really* read and build a relationship with the work
      of any poet (any poet worth his/her salt). I read poetry growing up
      too and I have a Ph.D. in English (with a dissertation on
      poetry) and, yes, it still takes a long time. There is no short cut.
      It is work and it is difficult. It is like learning a new language. Friend, I am afraid you sound
      like a mall shopper: you want to consume something and you
      want it to be relatively easy to consume. Hoa Nyguyen didn’t deliver
      the goods. But poetry is not a consumable good to be “gotten.” I think
      that fact is key to understanding what weird
      poetry has to do with ecological crisis and toilet seats made in China.

  28. L.U.

      I so love where you say that somewhere along the line poetry went underground. I love poetry readings – really, I do. But yes, there are times where I’m sitting there absorbing the language, being grabbed by bits and pieces that stick to me, and not really having a full understanding of the overall poem. And then I think, “That’s okay.” I feel like I’m in someone’s dream, warped and wavy sometimes, not sure where it began or where it will end. Until reading your post, I hadn’t really thought it through this much. So thank you! :)

  29. Sivan Butler-Rotholz

      I think the problem is one of accessibility. Having just graduated from a VERY experimental poetry MFA program, I now understand that many, many modern poets are NOT interested in accessibility. I am. Very much so. I have found two things: 1) You need to seek out accessible poets. They are out there and they are awesome. Read Li-Young Lee’s first book, Rose. Read Ocean Vuong’s first chapbook, Burnings. Read Elana Bell’s Eyes, Stones. 2) Modern North American poetry has a tendency to be afraid of emotion and tends to be more interested in form and experiment. Read foreign poets in translation. Lorca, Neruda, Yehuda Amichai, Mahmoud Darwish. Outside of the U.S. poetry is, by and large, still lyric and accessible. Seek and you shall find.

  30. Manhattan Call Girl

      Thank you for this. What happened to poetry was that MFA programs created money for nonpoets who were aggressive academics claiming to be poets. That’s why the real poetry went underground. But as WIlliam Carlos WIlliams said, “Poetry is always a rival government in direct opposition to the government in power.” Poetry readings should be about sharing inspiration — otherwise there’s no point. It’s not an intellectual game. Neither is life. Poetry is as necessary as bread — and helps us live life. During the WWII blockade of Leningrad people read War & Peace for clues on how to stay alive. Tolstoy was a great poet who wrote in novel form.

      Good for laughs: submit something to a workshop which was written by a great poet — sign your name. Will it surprise you when no one likes it? When they find pathetic reasons why they don’t like it? When no one recognizes the heft of a voice like Wallace Stevens, Yeats, Akhmatova or Lorca?

      “If love lives at all in the cheap tempestuousness of our time, I think it can only be in the unrelenting honesty with which we face animate nature, inanimate things, and the cruelty of our kind, and perceive and articulate and … choose love above all else.”

      I appreciate your honesty Bethany :-D.

  31. Guest

      This is hardly a new phenom. The Fugitive poets were calling for a simpler and more traditional language over 80 years ago. However, it seems that the author would miss the fact that we’ve been having this accessibility debate since high Modernism (if not before) because that would require her to know what her literary history.

  32. Manhattan Call Girl

      Great real poets: Li Young Lee, Terence Hayes, Ilya Kaminsky, Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, Wallace Stevens, Pablo Neruda — Apollinaire. It’s not experimentation that’s the problem — it’s the thinking that we don’t need inspiration.

  33. Manhattan Call Girl

      An absolutely GREAT contemporary poet: Sheila Black — who wrote Love Iraq — and edited Beauty is a Verb.

  34. Guest

      Christ on a cracker. Haven’t we been having this accessibility debate for most of the 20th century? Pound? Olson? Ashberry? Etc. etc. The fugitive poets leveled the same complaints in 30s. I think the author needs to buff up on her literary history, since she’s supposed to be a “master” in it, no?

  35. I do “get” poetry readings | the stanza

      […] I stumbled upon an article called “I Don’t “Get” Poetry Readings” at HTMLGIANT, explaining why its author (Bethany Prosseda) doesn’t “get” poetry […]

  36. Jason Ryberg

      OK, I’m going to be The Asshole, I guess, and say what I bet some of you are thinking but are too nice to say ( or aren’t as in as pissy of a mood, hung-over and jacked-up on coffee as me, today): Americans are stupid and don’t read anything, let alone poetry. Especially Mid-Westerners. BAM! There it is. Less than 47% of American adults read ONE book a year that is not required by their job or school. We are a post-literate society. We are besotted with celebrity kulture and the sports-industrial complex and distrust intellectuals and scientists. We are waging war against education and teachers. Poetry has become the cultural equivalent of bees and coral reefs. POETRY IS DEAD! LONG LIVE POETRY!


      […] few weeks ago, I gave poetry readings a hard time on HTMLGIANT. When I wrote the article, I was aware of its potential to generate conversation. However, I had no […]

  38. Bill Knott

      yes to this


      […] few weeks ago, I gave poetry readings a hard time on HTMLGIANT. When I wrote the article, I was aware of its potential to generate conversation. However, I had […]

  40. Robert Michael O'Brien

      Read Bill Knott!

  41. YOU GET IT | Actuary Lit

      […] called “I Still Don’t “Get” Poetry Readings,” which is a follow-up post to her original “I Don’t “Get” Poetry Readings.” In the more recent essay, she talks about the issues of accessibility surrounding poetry readings, […]

  42. John Dervishian