Ray Hammond’s Poetic Amusement (Athanata Arts) began as an M.A. thesis at New York University in the late 1990s, and it circulated privately before it was formally published in late 2010. The book builds on familiar critiques of the corruption of poetry that proceeds from the proliferation of creative writing programs, where students and teachers pander to each other’s prejudices and agendas. It’s all true.
What’s missing from Hammond’s critique is a recognition that American poetry has divided into two worlds. The first is about the power that descends from holding a high and firm position in the cultural apparatus, usually as a tenured academic. The second is about independent influence upon readers and other poets. Only rarely do those worlds intersect.
Each envies what the other has. Independents envy money; academics envy influence and respect. Because poetry power has been harder to access recently, the ranks of independents are burgeoning, forming their own constellations.