A Few Good Leads

I’m catching up on my reading.  You know.  Those articles you saved for later.  The ones you printed from the internet and then put in a pile.

One was called, “The New Math of Poetry,” by David Alpaugh, published in The Chronicle Review on February 21, 2010.  Alpaugh estimated that if 50 poems are published per year in the more than 2000 journals accepting poetry, more than 100,000 poems will be published in 2010.  He then extrapolates the growth in journals and estimates that 86 million poems will be published in this century.

Well, that is a lot of poems, and surely all of them cannot be that good, which is one of the points Alpaugh goes on to make.  His theme is that we’ll never know which are the good ones – or the good poets – because the process of getting published is too insular.  That’s why I started a blog.  I know no one, so this was the only way.

Next, I was mousing around on the Internet, a great way to waste a lot of time, and wandered onto the Poetry Foundation web site.  What caught my eye was another article with a reference to Ben Lerner and his new book, Leaving the Atocha Station.  The writer, Justin Taylor, wrote an essay called, “The Triumph of the Possible:  When the Poet in the Novel Isn’t Simply a Flake.”

The poet in the novel. Taylor had written a novel in which the connection between two poems, written by characters in the novel, hold “the key to a metaphysical element of the novel.”  He goes on to name several novels that feature a poet as a protagonist.  Here is his list:

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker

The Quickening Maze, Adam Foulde

Inferno ( A Poet’s Novel) by Eileen Myles

Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner

The Astral, Kate Christianson

Disaster Was My God, Bruce Duffy

The Stranger’s Child, Alan Hollinghurst

I have read some of these, most recently The Quickening Maze and The Anthologist (blog post, June 22, 2011).  It’s a good list and worth working through.  However, I would like to add a couple of other good leads:  P.D. James’ poet/detective Adam Dalgliesh; and the Ruth Zardo character in Louise Penny’s Quebec crime series that I blogged about on October 14, 2011.  I recall that some character wrote poems in Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury detective novels, but I cannot confirm that.  Margaret Atwood must have written about a poet, but perhaps I’m confusing her novels with her own considerable output as a poet.

I will keep an eye out for more examples of The Poet in the Novel.  If you know or discover one, let me know.


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