Have you ever had the experience of picking up a poetry journal in a magazine or book store, reading a few lines of very un-poetic or incomprehensible poetry, and then saying to yourself, "That's not poetry!" You may have even wondered to yourself, "What has happened to poetry?" If so, this anthology is for you. I had that experience dozens of times during the 70's, 80's and 90's, and the journals I looked into were some of the country's most prestigious. The poetry I read usually had no meter, rhyme or alliteration, the elements which, in my mind, make a poem a poem. Invariably I would walk away feeling incredulous that such artless poetry would be printed by anybody, much less the country's premier journals.
In the 1970's, when I was in my 20's, I was smart enough to figure out that I was witnessing a trend. But what I didn't know was that the trend had started almost a century before, in the mid-1880's, when poets – possibly following the example of Walt Whitman and, to lesser extent, Henry David Thoreau – abandoned meter in droves. Critics at the time thought it was a fad, but it wasn't. For the first time in the history of English, non-metered poetry became the norm.
In the early years of this trend, the free verse being written retained the rhythmic echoes of metered poetry. But by the mid-twentieth century, even that was gone, and poetry sounded very much like prose. On the way to this prosaic style, there was a phase in which some poets, including Sylvia Plath and James Dickey, wrote what could only be considered gibberish: nonsensical poetry which couldn't be understood by anyone but the poet.
I should say that not all poets rode this wave. W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, Robert Graves, Wallace Stevens, Edna St.Vincent Millay, Theodore Roethke, Dylan Thomas, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wilbur, and many others continued to write in meter. Not surprisingly, many of those who wrote in meter are now considered the 20th century's greatest poets. But despite these luminaries, free verse carried the day.
That is now changing. The trend is back to metered poetry, and the trend even has a name: New Formalism. New Formalist poetry is marked by the use of traditional poetic elements, such as meter and rhyme, but it uses natural diction rather than the stilted diction of some traditional poetry. In other words, it combines the best elements of traditional and modern poetry.
This anthology is an attempt to popularize New Formalist poetry, as well as natural-sounding traditional poetry. The majority of poems in this anthology are metered and rhymed, although I have included some very good free verse. My rule of thumb (though I don't always follow it) is that the poetry included here must be accessible and pleasing to listen to.
This anthology began as a private book of poems that I created for myself several years ago. I created it so that I would not have to run to a dozen different volumes to find all the poems that I love. When it occurred to me to publish that private book on the internet, I naively assumed that the cost of paying for reprint rights would be manageable. After all, how much is a poem worth? $25? I quickly learned that publishers ascribe a very high value to them. Richard Wilbur's publisher wanted $1,720 for twelve poems, and that was only for a seven-year term, after which I would have to pay again! Thus, as much as 50% of my original poetry book cannot be printed. However, a great deal of excellent poetry is being written by lesser-known contemporary poets – poets who are generally happy to see their poetry in print, and who do not require reprint fees; I have focussed on bringing those poets onto the site. Thus, there is no shortage of good poetry here; and as more poets are invited to join, more good poetry will be posted.