The 10 Most Overrated Poets
Everybody loves a top-ten list. Here, in reverse order, are Poetry Snark's ten most overrated poets.
I'm limiting these to Anglophones (living or dead), as I don't trust translations, and the only other language I can read is French. Obviously, this list is biased toward the living, as time has a way of doing its own job on puffed-up hacks. Also, these are overrated poets, not the worst ones. For example, I actually think that Bukowski could be pretty funny at times, but the fact that in Europe he is often considered America's best of the 20th-century requires that he be on this list.
Oh, and this is based on how I perceive their stature from today's point-of-view, so it doesn't include poets like Longfellow, Southey, or Amy Lowell, who were overrated during their time, but aren't taken seriously today. So without further ado, the most overrated English-language poets of all time:
10. Ted Kooser
He's only here because he's Poet Laureate. He's really just a blandly inoffensive barns and farms poet, suitable for use in seducing blue-haired old ladies. His inclusion here is certainly contestable, as I’m not sure that he’s held in high enough esteem to be considered “overrated.”
9. Charles Bukowski
This is the poet boys love when they are in high school. I'll say this for him--he wasn't a fake (I met him once briefly). I wouldn't even put him here if he wasn't the all-time favorite of so many, even when they should have outgrown him and should know better.
8. Bob Perelman
Does anyone really like his poems?
7. Billy Collins
Who would argue with this choice? Well, not too many from the States, anyway. Has anyone heard of this guy in the
6. Derek Walcott
Derek Walcott won both the Nobel and the McArthur “genius” grant. It's not that he's that awful, but he is profoundly overrated.
5. Robert Pinsky
Another poet here primarily because he was a Laureate, but unlike Kooser, who is rejected by the intelligentsia, Pinsky has fans in high places. He has detractors too. I love what Jim Galvin once said about him: "Pinsky wants to dance with his poems. The problem is, he has a lead ass."
4. Mary Oliver
She may be the worst poet on the list, but her reputation has suffered as the fad for ultra-flat "prose-like" lines has waned as of late, and her most recent book, has been roundly panned, even by mainstream reviewers, who usually don't have the guts to go negative. Still, she is worshipped by many, and she is so very awful
3. Ted Hughes
I could care less what he did to Sylvia Plath. Maybe we should be grateful to him, since I suspect his infidelity resulted in some of her finest work. But Hughes was the
2. Lord Alfred Tennyson
Another mildly competent versifier who is here primarily because of his puffed rep. But oh how puffed it is. Tennyson is still the most widely taught Victorian poet (the fact he is still more read than Browning is one of poetry's great scandals). And yes, it's easy--and fun--to pick on Poet Laureates, but this guy's most famous poem is "The Lady of Shallot," which rivals even "The Raven" as most overrated poem of all time. One of my former teachers in
1. Edgar Allen Poe
You probably saw this coming. The jingle-jangle man was always a hack with a tin ear, yet even today, he is considered the most influential American poet on the French, and he is the third most studied American poet of the 19th century. His sense of “music” makes Tennyson look like Keats, and his verse is best suited to frightening six year olds. It should have been forgotten long ago.
So what do you think? These kinds of lists almost always create arguments, and I'm sure you have your own nominees who you would put on this list if you were making it yourself. Use this thread to call me on my bullshit or add your own hacks to the pile.