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Since Anis Shivani’s list of 15 overrated poets and authors, many have responded with writers who they believe to be underrated.

I have a fellow blogger in mind. Her name is Alegria Imperial and she writes some of the loveliest haiku on the web. Her blog is called jornals. She deserves more readers. If you like haiku, please visit her site and add yourself as an E-Mail subscriber. You will find the option at the lower right.

Don’t look for glitz, polish or graphic design.

Alegria pours her heart into her haiku. Subscribe and every so often a momentary breath, a world in three lines of poetry, will color your day.

And if you enjoy her haiku, let her know.

Poetry Foundation: Shame on You

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I don’t know the last time so many readers were exposed to so many poets. And to judge by the content of the comments (and not just at the Huffington Post) the majority of the respondents were unfamiliar with the majority of the poets Shivani roasted (queue irony).

Where was the Poetry Foundation?

The most that I can find is a bloodless Copy/Paste/Link squib at harriet.

This is what $200,000,000 dollars (bequeathed by the heiress Ms. Lilly) buys us? The Poetry Foundation should be ashamed of itself. Anis Shivani with his, albeit, negative criticism, probably brought more attention to more poets and to more readers than the Poetry Foundation has managed since its inception. Evidence? Have you seen upwards of 2,000 comments on a harriet post?

M.I.A. Why?

Why is this all that the Poetry Foundation can manage? An organization (worth its salt) would have jumped on this opportunity to enter the conversation. To date I, myself, did more work on this subject than an entire $200,000,000 dollar organization supposedly devoted to the furtherance of poetry and poets (or the discussion thereof). Why? Is it because Shivani didn’t post it at their site (instead of Huffington Post)? Do they consider themselves above it? Are they piqued because Shivani skewered their belovèd idols? Is it a dis? Maybe it’s nothing more than indifference and indolence – nobody can be bothered. Maybe they think it doesn’t matter?

Whatever the reason, it’s inadequate.

If this portends the future of the Poetry Foundation, it doesn’t look good.

15 More Replies to Shivani’s 15 Most Overrated American Writers

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It’s a full blown opera.

And the fat ladies are in full warble.

If you’ve finished your popcorn, then get more.

More replies to Anis Shivani’s 15 Overrated American Writers.


Wikipedia: Sharon Oldes

That has to hurt. Wikipedia keeps it ruthlessly current with an update on the poet’s reputation.

Exemplary Lines: “Negative: Poet and literary critic Anis Shivani:” (…and queue quote from Shivani.)


Leith Literary

There but for the grace of God! It’s all in the footnote. J. Nelson Leith confesses his Near-MFA-Experience or (NME). Pronounced enemy, not enema. Was the MFA program the real victim in Shivani’s article? The military has a new recruiting tool. You want an MFA? Really?

Exemplary Lines: “…in retrospect I am glad to have had years of outward-looking experience in the military and intelligence communities rather than years in a literary Hall of Mirrors.”


Absolute Gentleman

Written by Frank. The first part of Shivani’s article? Frank’s OK with it. The second part?  Two words: Razor burn. But Frank’s got the razor now, and Frank’s not feeling the kumbaya.

Exemplary Lines: “I got over it and saw through his anger to see his points. What helped me get over it was the ridiculous response from those blogging back. The biggest offender was Publishers’ Weekly, which has done more damage to good writers than The Huffington Post ever will.”


The Feminist Texan (Reads)

What does Shivani’s list have in common? The Feminist Texan knows and she doesn’t like it.

Exemplary Lines: “Color me surprised.”


The Measure

You sure you only got four bullets in that shooter? Jonny Diamond picks up where Shivani leaves off. Cover your eyes.

Exemplary Lines: “Of the writers on his list, I haven’t read the following (largely because they’ve always seemed like middle-brow hacks who sell books to Sunday readers)…” (Yikes!)


Fashion, War, and Other Necessities

Show some class! This is how you hit a man with glasses. Got a problem with Shivani’s ‘tude? The Art of War? Read Sun Tzu. The art of criticism? Read this blog.

Exemplary Lines: “And lastly, to declare a poet overrated (i.e. John Ashbery) is odd, considering poets are barely even visible in today’s society beyond the “MFA writing system” Shivani so deliberately discredits.” (Ashbery is just not feeling the love.)


David Maine

I see your Amy Tan and I raise you one. David Maine picks up where Jonny Diamond leaves off.

Exemplary Lines:Sharon Olds — read her a lot in grad school when I was trying to date poets. She writes a lot about, like, sex and her father. Often in the same poem, if you get my drift. I used to like her stuff but haven’t read it in ages. She had a book called Satan Says, which I thought was a killer title for a bunch of poems.”


One Way Street

Déjà vous. Richard Prouty has seen it all before. But does he disagree with Shivani? It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

Exemplary Lines: “For what it’s worth, I should point out that the emperor is dead. Poststructuralism expired a decade ago.”


Seth Abramson: The Suburban Ecstasies

Does the expression black ball mean anything to you? Get a cup of Joe and a doughnut (maybe two…or three… get the sampler) because this post is War & Peace.  Sure, maybe Shivani made you really, really, really, really… really upset, but put the gun down and let’s talk (before you all prove Shivani’s point).

Exemplary Lines: “This is a clear call, if I’m reading it right — and I’m trying to read it as it was intended, not “spin” it for the purpose of a blog-post — for Anis to be black-listed…”


From Soho to Silo

It’s all fun and games until… Alicia Rebecca Meyers sends Shivani to his room. As for you… yes, you… if you weren’t ashamed of yourself before, you will be now. Put another way: If you don’t feel two feet tall by the end of this post, it’s because you shrunk to one. Go back and re-read What I learned in Kindergarten.

Exemplary Lines: “And Shivani himself is not just a critic, but a poet. We have more than ten Facebook friends in common — which is to say, we are members of the same community.”


My 3,000 Loving Arms

Am I really like that? Sarah Sarai confesses, but it’s not the authors, it’s the concept writing.

Exemplary Lines: “Why can’t we all be friends?”


Puget Sound English Department

Quiet down class. The Puget Sound English Department weighs the pros and cons. Balanced. Considered. Maybe even debonair. It’s a five paragraph essay with a topic sentence and conclusion.

Exemplary Lines: “While Shivani’s selections will no doubt offend many of us (I was a bit taken aback to find a few of my personal favorites on his hit list), he argues, quite convincingly, that many of today’s most acclaimed writers substitute stylistic tics for nuance, solipsism for vision, and topical superficiality for the larger questions–or a greater variety of answers thereto–that have inspired the best authors of yesterday and today.”



Jeffery Berg feels it is necessary to respond. The venue is bad enough but… think Jerry Seinfeld: ‘The Huffingtton Post? Really? The Huffington Post? Really?’ It’s all just such bad taste. Look for words like pettiness, laziness, snarky, toxic. Does he agree with Shivani? That’s besides the point. No love for poets.

Exemplary Lines: “Did he read and fully comprehend the exile and heartbreak in “Mrs. Sen’s” or The Namesake?”


Open Salon

Low hanging fruit. Did the French waste a perfectly good guillotine on the royal cook? No. That’s not how you start a revolution. Ted Burke wants royal blood – Mailer, Updike, Wallace. Ted Burke wants his money back. Shivani is an amateur.

Exemplary Lines: “The Huffington Post squib, alas, was too easy to write, too, too easy to assemble.” (Squib? Ouch. Good word. I’ve got to use that somewhere.)


harriet: a blog from the poetry foundation

America’s multi-million dollar hope for the preservation of poetry weighs in… or do they? Does the expression ten foot pole mean anything to you? When the 900 pound gorilla ducks and runs.

Exemplary Lines: “Here’s what he had to say about Glück…” (…and queue link)

And Shivani himself is not just a critic, but a poet. We have more than ten Facebook friends in common — which is to say, we are members of the same community

15 Reactions to Shivani’s 15 Overrated American Writers

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The fat lady’s still singing.

Reading the reactions to Anis Shivani’s post has been as much fun as the post itself.

The number of comments (at Huffington Post) is already racing toward 2,000. That, in my view, makes Shivani’s criticism a ringing success (despite the tidal wave of indignation and posturing). Any piece of writing that can draw that much attention has done something right – and by right I mean more than opinions.  In reviewing these posts, I’ve noticed a trend. Those who are most offended by Shivani seem to be those most vested in literature, either as writers, academics or critics. Those who approve of Shivani’s comments seem to be the reading public. Just my impression.

Popcorn anyone?


The Rumpus

Yikes! Like a virgin who’s touched the centerfold. Contradicting their namesake, this website backed away from their link to Shivani’s article with unrivaled horror and rectitude!

Exemplary Lines: “Yikes. I was the one who approved the original post. Lapse in judgment there! Sorry everybody.”



The news blog of Publisher’s Weekly uses Shivani’s commentary as a teachable moment. “We need some happy thoughts,” they write; then ask: “Who are the most  underrated writers?” The results turn up in their post: PWxyz’s most Underrated Writers. But Publisher’s Weekly turns out to be a dark, bleak night for poets. Such is the shiny-faced law of unintended consequences. Is there a single poet among the 15 most underrated writers? Not one. Lesson learned. A rising tide does not lift poets.

Examplary Lines: “We need some happy thoughts. Rather than put people down, let’s life a few people up and make a list of underrated writers for a bright new week. “(Unless you’re a poet.)


The Guardian

Bring it on! Alison Flood of the Guardian takes a spectator’s relish in the all-car crash & burn that is turning out to be the literary world’s Indy 500.

Exemplary Lines: “I get the feeling that Shivani has been brewing this piece for some time.”


Ask Parliament

The post that sees both sides of the argument, fair and balanced, right up… almost… just about… to the end.

Exemplary Lines: “To be fair to Shivani, many of the writers he discussed are utter hacks.”


The Missouri Review

Disappointed. Michael Nye, the managing editor of the Missouri Review is, in a word, disappointed — which is not to say he disagrees. First paragraph? He lists the skewered authors, but what about the poets? Look for words like rabid, inflammatory, sour grapes, bully-pulpit.

Exemplary Lines: “Well, okay.”


Jezebel: Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women

Feminism anyone? 9 of the writers on Shivani’s hit list are women – and that might be 9 too many. Still no love for poets.

Exemplary Lines : “Yes, Glück has committed the first deadly sin of the female writer: thinking she’s important.” (Note: the author doesn’t write: Glück has committed the first deadly sin of the poet: thinking she’s important.


The Skeptician

A love/hate relationship? David Hill has tried to bite his tongue, but enough is enough. (Perhaps the first respondent to have actually read Shivani elsewhere.) He’s not impressed but, “to be honest”, Shivani “makes some good points”. Shivani “complains alot”, but “oddly, I think if I met him, I would like him.” Why won’t Shivani back up his criticism?

Exemplary Lines: “…I move at a different pace than many of the blogging elite that manage to fire off their own inflammatory musings every time some drivel like this ruffles enough people’s feathers.” (Moi?)


Cocktail Hour

Ritual purification. Bill Roorbach, like David Hill, just can’t resist the siren call of Shivani’s bonfire of the vanities. Guilt. Pleasure. It’s all there. And a sense of humor. In the comment section, Roorbach adds as an afterthought: “The poets on Mr. Shivani’s list are all interesting, too, but that’s a different discussion.” A different discussion? The has to hurt. No time for poetry on his Rolodex.

Exemplary Lines: “I love them!  I love their books!  Also, they’re friends and acquaintances of mine, and I don’t like to see them hurt.”


Quill & Quire

Shivani is the reincarnation of B.R. Myers. Haven’t read Myers’ article? Then you’re in for another treat – not over-easy but well-done.

Exemplary Lines: “Shivani also broadens the field of his attack, including seven poets and one critic (The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani).” (Finally, poets and novelists in the same paragraph, getting the recognition they… well… deserve?)


Ward Six

This blogger is so offended he refuses to so much as link to Shivani’s article. So, because I’m poet and have a license to practice poetic justice, I am linking to him.

Exemplary Lines: “I wish he could have just said what he thought without first having to invalidate what I think, based upon my status as a college professor in an MFA program.” (Yeah… this is personal.)


Carissa Halston

Shivani has a point, says Carissa. We can all improve, right?

Exemplary Lines: “Unless you’re incredibly well-versed in contemporary American literature, at least one of those names will make you ask, ‘Who?'”


Rachel Inez Lane

Her gripe? What a sexist prude!

Exemplary Lines: “And since when were these women ever even roped in with John Ashbery or Billy Collins.” (Ouch.)


The Faster Times

Overrated overrated lists. Lincoln Michel asks: Overrated by who? Any love for poets? Michel calls Shivani’s critique of Ashbery several decades too late. Translation: He’s beating a dead horse. Ouch. What about the other poets?  Don’t ask. Let’s talk about those novelists.

Exemplary Lines: “Is it a list of writers that MFA students overrate? Mainstream literary awards? Small magazines? The reading public? It is like making a list of overrated musicians and putting Lada Gaga and Drake next to John Cale and Children of Bodom.”


The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog

The post that finally demolishes Shivani with, among other things, a devastating critique of his poor grammar. Cortnee Howard proves why she’s Editor-in-Chief.

Exemplary Lines: “There is a semi-colon in the first sentence, but the first clause doesn’t have a subject, which is both wrong and generally confusing.”



Into the fire. This website only provided a link to Shivani’s article but offered up lots and lots of indignant comments. But, finally, someone defends the poets… sort of… in a way… as it were … kinda’… Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire.

Exemplary Lines: “Why are there even poets on that list at all? Nobody is out there rating poets. No poets are getting rich off of being overrated. Leave the poor poets to bitch at each other about who’s winning what contest and who was whose student and all that mess. Jesus.” (Never mind.)

the reappraisal begins…

Every generation, at some point, declares its independence from the one that preceded it; and the baby-boom generation is over-ripe for just such a comeuppance.

While not all the authors skewered in Anis Shivani’s article are baby-boomers, I was interested to notice those who are.

Here’s what he has to say about John Ashbery:

Exemplary Lines: “The sheiks protest use of / aims. In the past / coal has protected their / O long, watchful hour. / the engines had been humming / stones of March in the gray woods / still, the rods, could not they take long / More anthems until dust / flocks disguised machine.”

More responsible than anyone else for turning late twentieth-century American poetry into a hermetic, self-enclosed, utterly private affair. Displays sophomoric lust to encode postmodern alienation into form that embodies the supposed chaos of the mind. Though he has somehow acquired a reputation for the visionary (especially among the Brits, who think he’s the greatest American poet), John Berryman’s Dream Songs are infinitely more on the mark. Another amateur philosopher, like Jorie Graham, another acolyte of what he thinks is Wittgensteinian logic. Ran away with postmodern irony, eccentricized it to the point of meaninglessness. Now we have no working definition of irony anymore–thanks, John Ashbery! Mixes low and high levels of language, low and high culture, every available postmodern artifact and text, from media jargon to comic books, to recreate a reality ordered only by language itself. When reality=language (as his carping cousins, the language poets, have it, just like him), politics becomes vacuous, and any usurper can and will step in. Has been a Mannerist after his own outdated manner at least since Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Among the writers listed here, I want to like him the most–it’s too bad he’s been a parody of himself for so long.

And here is his take on Mary Oliver:

Exemplary lines: “My right hand / was holding my left hand / which was holding the tree / which was filled with stars // and the soft rain– / imagine! imagine! / the long and wondrous journeys / still to be ours.”

America’s best-selling poet along with Billy Collins, and that tells you all you need to know about how the public views American literature. A “nature poet” whose poems all seem to follow the same pattern: time, animal, setting, observation, epiphany. For example, 5 a.m., opossum, backyard, broken, it ran. Or 3 p.m., kitten, field, how real, peace. Only has to mechanically alter the variables, to get the same desired effect. United with other writers on this list by showmanship, calling attention to her own skills, putting herself at the center of epiphanies and moral goodness. Publishes a book a year with interchangeable contents–how she has put on the brakes on her own evolution is the real wonder. Poems are free of striking images, ideas, or form. Animals and natural settings are described in the vaguest of terms. Has long been enrolled in the Dale Carnegie school of winning friends and influencing people. As far removed from Emerson as Stephen King is from Melville. Here she is communicating with the snow crickets: “I looked down / into the theater of their perfect faces– / that frozen, bottomless glare.” Communicating with the hermit crab: “Once I looked inside / the darkness / of a shell folded like a pastry, / and there was a fancy face.” Her optimism, like Billy Collins’s, is a slap to the face of history. Again and again, she happily wonders: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” One suspects, she knows the answer.

He also has some opinions about Helen Vendler,  Sharon Olds, Jorie Graham, Louise Glück, and Billy Collins.

So far, the comments (following the post) are scatter shot – as one would expect. Many deride the criticism as subjective, but when has criticism been anything but?

What’s especially interesting is that fully half the authors are poets. Thinking back on my Let Poetry Die post, this must be the first time I’ve seen so many contemporary poets stuffed into a non-literary web site or publication. Unluckily for them (or justifiably) they’re being sauced like a pot of lobsters. Although I haven’t read each and every comment, very few of them mention any sort of familiarity beyond Ashbery (9 out of 10 negative) or the critic Helen Vendler (who seems to have been foisted on students by professors who couldn’t do better).

No one is jumping to the defense of these poets (as opposed to the novelists). And I’m not sure by whom these poets were overrated, other than by whatever academic institution hired them or teaches them. Of all the poets mentioned, Ashbery has the furthest to fall. I doubt his reputation will survive the next generation. History is overstuffed with artists who were lionized by their own generation, only to be swept into dusty anthologies.