Becoming the Living Poet

Top 5 Most Over-Read Poets

Posted on: April 29, 2009

Please understand I didn’t say these poets were over-rated. If you’ve never read a poem in your life this list is probably an excellent place to start.

These poets are actually quite wonderful, every single one of them. In fact they’re too wonderful because people who read these poets never seem to read anyone else.

So I’m making this list so that you’ll know that if you’ve only read these poets you’ve fallen into what’s known as the National Poetry Month Trap.

Don’t be embarrassed. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially since April is National Poetry Month. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and read other slightly less famous poets.

Top 5 Most Over-Read Poets

1. Robert Frost

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep,” and at least ten thousand more high school English classes to visit. Tomorrow. Between 8am and 9am. And another ten thousand the hour after that. Seriously, I love Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening as much as the next person, but this poem is tired. In fact, it’s exhausted. And don’t even talk to me about The Road Not Taken. Reading one of Robert Frost’s lesser known poems. Now that would make all the difference.

2. Emily Dickinson

“Hope is the thing with feathers”, so it does not seem too extravagant to hope that after thoroughly enjoying your Emily Dickinson, you spread the love to other talented, if somewhat less famous, female poets, but given that “the soul selects her own society,” you certainly shouldn’t feel obligated.

3. Shel Silverstein

How can I say that Shel Silverstein is over-read when the official Shel Silverstein website is so bloody adorable? I feel like I’m kicking a puppy but goodreads doesn’t lie. 110,922 goodreads users have read Where the Sidewalk Ends whereas only 6,137 users have read the next most popular poet on the poetry book shelf, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. I was going to argue that there are other children’s poets out there of comparable quality, but let’s be honest with ourselves, no one’s as good as Silverstein. Maybe Dr. Suess. The only sensible way to close this gap is for adults to read more poetry.

4. Walt Whitman

Like Santa Claus whom he resembles quite strikingly, Walt Whitman must have the best agent in Hollywood because he’s never had trouble breaking into the movies. Dead Poet’s Society, The Notebook, With Honors, Bull Durham, and countless other films that featured a Walt Whitman quotation reminded people, sometimes quietly and sometimes with all the subtly of an army of crazed violinists, that poetry is more than words on a page in the same way that life is more than an uninterrupted stream of heartbeats. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if Walt Whitman can crystallize a celluloid moment so effectively there might be other poets who could help move the camera of your mind’s eye into a closeup on a relevant moment?

5. Allen Ginsberg

I saw the best minds of my generation” fall under the mistaken assumption that Allen Ginsberg was the only beat poet or even that Howl was the poet’s only poem worth reading. Read A Supermarket in California if you haven’t yet.

(The line of unexpected change of subject!)

While visiting poetry websites you tend to collect good quotes about poetry as if they were barnacles. And I have to share them with you or else I’ll burst, so here’s some cool ones:

“Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.” -Carl Sandburg

“I don’t think we should insist that the poet is normal or, for that matter, that anybody is.” – Wallace Stevens

“I once asked this literary agent what kind of writing paid the best. He said, ‘Ransom notes’.” – Gene Hackman in Get Shorty


3 Responses to "Top 5 Most Over-Read Poets"

[…] to such a degree as to be almost unrecognizable. I included Emily Dickinson on my list of the Top 5 Over-Read Poets because nowadays Emily Dickinson is recognized as one of the greatest American poets ever to have […]

If short story month ends up coming true, I will make you an analog list. Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor…

After I posted about it I started thinking about the process of getting an official holiday recognized. I think the best way to make short story month a reality might be to treat it as if it were already official.

The movement is apparently being spear-headed by Emerging Writers Network:

And a lot of other blogs are following its lead. Hopefully after a few years of celebrating a highly visible “unofficial national short story month” someone with clout will come along and make a declaration.

I’ll probably do a post or two to commemorate the month long holiday.

I can post your list if you like…

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