In a long but engrossing essay on literary history, Stephen Burt asks: “Is American poetry still a thing?” Pithy questions need long clarifications. Here are his:
I take my title from the transatlantic cultural critic John Oliver, whose television show asks “How is (Columbus Day, Daylight Savings Time, Televangelism, etc.) still a thing?” Oliver implies that the thing in question has become useless, harmful, or obsolete. I do not ask whether individual poems are useless or harmful, but whether “American poetry,” as a category and a concept, might be obsolete, and whether the term and the set of works to which it has pointed no longer cohere. If that is the case, what should replace it?
The best way answer to this question is with either a book or a few paragraphs. I’ll opt for the latter:
It’s pretty clear that for the moment American poetry is done.