Elisa Gabbert begins her blog post, “Publish the Poem, Not the Poet” with the following anecdote-
Going through Absent subs lately, I’ve been reading a lot of poems that feel basically perfunctory. They are perfectly competent poems written by poets who have every indication of being good writers: I recognize their names and the places that they’ve been published; their credentials are impressive; often I’m already pretty familiar with their work. (Everyone submits to and gets published in the same online journals, for the most part.) But the poems are merely competent; they have no [oomph/je ne sais quoi/duende/poetry]. It’s like the poet wrote them just because you gotta write something. These writers are probably capable of turning out a “publishable” poem any day of the week.
The post is worth reading in full. Also interesting is the comments section, where there’s a lively thread going. It seems, for the most part, that people are in agreement with her, some of them quite vocally so. Personally, I felt my own agreement-strings tugged hard at the out-set, but then the upwelling of a consensus so perfectly in line with my own made me distrust my own first instinct. If we’re all in such fine agreement on what the problem is (that is, the problem of “competence,” as outlined above; later EG introduces and “image vs. idea” argument with a highly tentative relationship to the ostensible initial concern of the post) then why has the problem not resolved itself by dint of our own collectively adjusted behaviors? Is there anyone out there who knowingly practices the poetry of mere competence, or sufficiency? Is there a describable (defensible) logic or ethos informing such practice? I would love to hear from that person or those people. Also, does anyone want to make the argument FOR publishing the poet rather than the poem? I actually think there’s a strong, albeit difficult argument to be made for this practice, though not necessarily as it applies to the mid-rangers and “competents” EG is talking about. DISCUSS!