bad poets are incredibly resourceful

Patrick Malcor: You said that there is no specific style of poetry right now. Do you think poetry is beyond the point where it can have a movement, a certain mass style, or do you think that it needs that?

Philip Levine: There will always be movements. We have one right now that began in California, the Language Poets. Do you know their work? [Blank looks.] You don't, God bless you. Young poets begin movements to have something to belong to, something potentially exciting: "We're going to change American poetry!"

Ever since I began writing I've noticed that certain movements are there mainly to help people without talent write something they can pass off as poetry. If you can't tell a decent story, denounce poems that tell stories. If you can't create characters, denounce poems with people in them. If you can't create images, write boring generalities. If you have no sense of form, imitate the formlessness of the sea. If you have no ear, disparage music. If everything you write is ugly and senseless, remind your readers that the world is ugly and senseless. Bad poets are incredibly resourceful. But those are movements that are easily forgotten. About fifteen years ago we had something called the New Formalism, and it seems to have vanished already. Very curious movement, a sort of nostalgia for the poetry of the fifties and perhaps for the decade itself, and it occurred at a time when the best formal poets of the fifties—Wilbur, Merrill, Hecht, Nemerov—were still writing incredibly well.

- Philip Levine, in interview with Harry Thomas' class at Davidson College, as published in Talking with Poets (Handsel Books, 2002). You can read the whole thing here.

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