Wednesday, June 14, 2006

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 U.K.? Canada?

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 U.K.'s Poet Laureate for fourteen years, despite the fact that the only reason he was appointed in the first place is because a far superior poet, Philip Larkin, turned it down (as any self-respecting poet should). Surrealism and being a Brit don't mix, and it's hard to say what's worse, his milquetoast attempts at "the uncanny" in his profoundly overrated "crow" poems, or his tepid early nature poems. Brother should have stuck to children's books. At least The Iron Man made for a decent children's animated film (“The Iron Giant”).

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 Nebraska said it best: "Tennyson is like the Platte River, a mile wide and an inch deep."

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Jorie Graham?

12:40 PM, June 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only one woman? And if you've ever seen that book jacket photo of her, Oliver looks a little too much like a very ugly man.

1:58 PM, June 15, 2006  
Blogger CLAY BANES said...

good one. how about a list going the other way — the most fashionably fatuously maligned.

3:03 PM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

Man, you Jorie haters are fanatics. I like fanatics, but you're wrong is this case.

Jorie was overrated 10 years ago. Now she is despised and hardly qualifies as overrated, however one estimates the value of her work.

4:12 PM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger forkingspoon said...

Add Robert Bly to the list!

10:12 AM, June 27, 2006  
Anonymous Lukecubed said...


No, seriously, I do. I can't really argue with you, as he's definitely overrated. I understand he's cheesy. I still like him, and I'd rather read his melodramatic bullshit than Whitman's.


10:32 PM, June 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Strand has to be up there. His poetry is so contentless. It's just Mark Strand staring at his jacket pic and making little kissy kissy faces at himself.

6:48 AM, July 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to add another of the worst: Seamus Heaney. A humorless fraud, cold and toady. Carve the flesh off his puffed up chest, show his wooden ribs, stab his beady eyes, and burn him at the stake. Then toss on Jorie Graham as well.

9:15 PM, July 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Add Dana Gioia. Please. Do it for the children.

12:32 AM, July 14, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

You're right about Gioia sucking, but I don't personally know anyone who thinks he's any good anyway. Maybe he's overrated by other "businessmen poets" or something. Nevertheless, "for the children," I have made a new post in your honor regarding Mr. Gioia.

8:50 PM, July 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right with you on Dreck Walcott, "Dead" Hughes, Pinsky and Shameless Hammy. Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones) surely deserves a mention for his never-ending stream of self-conscious hipster bullshit(snaps fingers and nods annoyingly....)

5:19 PM, July 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With your "jingle-jangle" reference about Poe, you are clearly an Emersonian. That crowd of Emersonians all had it in for Poe because Poe was superior to them and didn't fit neatly within their rigid ideological world-view.

9:48 AM, August 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever your take on Poe's poetry, let's not forget his fiction was, and is, some of the best stuff around. Better and more influential (even on the French!) than his poesy, anyways...

6:33 PM, August 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the choice of Poe ironic, since Eddy was the first American 'snark.' No one was more anti-puff than Poe.

Poe is underrated precisely because his snarky honesty irked cliques of literary hacks of his day.

As for our day, how often do you read of Poe in APR, The New Yorker, The New Criterion, or the NY Review of Books? Never. It's all Whitman, Melville, Emerson. Bor-ing. Snobs in Poe's day got too much of him, and today's snobs don't 'get' him at all.

Secondly, whoever says Poe has a tin ear has, well, a tin ear.

A river a mile wide and an inch deep (if such a thing were possible) is actually highly poetic. Poe scorned 'the deep' with the sort of wisdom which is rarely appreciated today.

Poe is not only not underrated, he is vastly misunderstood. If I hear one more hack call him "macabre..."

But congratulations, Poetry Snark, for making Poe no. 1. Poe has a genius for getting noticed, even
for the wrong reasons. Emerson called Poe the 'jingle man' (privately--the anecdote comes from William Dean Howells) only because Poe exposed a poet-friend of Emerson's (William Ellery Channing)in a review truthful, detailed--and terribly funny.

2:28 PM, August 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, include David Bottoms on your list. His poems are all about David, David, David, as if anyone should care. For a man who has based all of his many poetry books on his personal life, he has lived one hell of a boring life. I can tell you that I have met the guy and he is a real ass wipe. He is as rude as hell. But let me tell you something, if there is something that you can do for him, he'll kiss butt in a heartbeat. Other than that, he doesn't give a shit about anyone other than himself. Hey Dave, you know you stole from my poetry and stories and then published it under your name. Now I know why you married a lawyer you prick! When you least expect it, expect it you jerk!

11:32 PM, September 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How delightfully refreshing! I dropped out of MFA school because there aren't enough people like you! Cheers!

4:09 PM, January 17, 2007  
Anonymous Howdytowner said...

You misspelled Edgar Allan Poe. How can I believe anything you write?

6:26 PM, January 17, 2007  
Anonymous wealhtheow said...

My love for you is deep and eternal because you included Tennyson on this list. Both the Brownings were far superior.

7:45 AM, January 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keats. Fucking Keats and his fucking Grecian Urn.

7:21 PM, January 18, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

What, no mention of that bane of schoolchildren everywhere--Joyce Kilmer?!?!

6:43 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger StyleyGeek said...

Dennis Glover. Especially the Magpies, the bane of all New Zealand school children.

Quardle ardle oodle ardle doodle?

What was he THINKING?

1:56 AM, January 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will be so glad when self-aggrandizing, self-congratulatory, self-indulgent, gratuitous scoffing is no longer fashionable. Scoff! Scoffity scoff scoff! With a side of scoff! Scoff a la mode! Scoffing for everyone!

4:39 PM, January 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All poetry sucks.

11:26 AM, January 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm trying to get more interested in poetry. So far my favorites are Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman My cousin recommended Mary Oliver. I read some of her poetry on line and was kind of disappointed in most of it...although I honestly like a few of her poems. Who would You or anyone else here recommend for someone who wants to read good poetry? I don't want to read someone who writes in such an esoteric fashion that it takes an entire study group to figure out what they mean. What do some of you think are Wonderful poets? Passionate and intelligent? Where would be a good place to start? Thank you.

10:29 PM, February 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can Emily Dickinson not be on this list? The list is about "overrated" poets, so their reputations must greatly exceed their abilities. No one in the history of literature has a greater reputation based on less talent. She is respected not for her poetry, but for her relationship to her poetry; in other words, she is an intriguing figure, and her poetry gives us some insight into her, but the poems themselves are completely unremarkable, and the praise she gets for them is the same kind of praise I give to my undergraduate creative writing students when they make one good word choice in a ten-page story. I cringe every time I read a Dickinson poem.

8:26 AM, May 03, 2007  

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