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March 1, 2007 | 19 Comments

Mr. Keillor
I just can't take it anymore. Modern poetry has put a bullet through my creative heart. A long time ago I fell in love with the written word. Through my years, I've written trashcans full of stories, poems and what-nots. It was a wonderful hobby that taught me to appreciate the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Bob Dylan and Kurt Vonnegut. But now I've fallen on hard times. Through the Writers Almanac I've been hopelessly exposed to modern poetry (I guess that's what it is) and I am so lost. What I feel I see in print there are so many small piles of drivel, devoid of thought or effort, consisting of nothing more than ego. Please forgive me but I feel that what passes as poetry today is usually just a sentence or two chopped up in pieces and arranged in a confusing manner. My dog sheds more poetically. I know I'm doomed forever to writer's hell for questioning the emperor's outfit, but I've now lost the ability to write anything much more than comments to a website. I plead for guidance.

Bill S.
Fenton, MO.

No need to suffer, Mr. S. If your dog is more poetic to you than what you hear on The Writers Almanac, you should spend more time with your dog. It's a free country. Once you're out of high school, nobody is forcing you to pay any attention to poetry at all. You've made up your mind. Stick with it.


I, too, am confused with "modern" poetry (and frankly, poetry in general). It's all quite nice but some of it seems to speak more profoundly then the rest. Are you saying that poetry is no more than enjoyable fluff and nonsense, and that a person should pay attention to only whatever floats his boat?

Dear Garrison Keillor,

Of all the replies to all the "Posts to the Host" on this website over the years , your reply to Bill S. of Fenton, MO, is surely one of the rudest. I know this isn't the Writer's Almanac site, it's Prairie Home Companion, but you ARE tangentially connected to WA, come on. Your abrubt dismissal of an opinion that a lot of people probably share (that what passes as poetry today is usually just a sentence or two chopped up in pieces and arranged in a confusing manner) is unbecoming to a person of your stature. You could have used the occasion to help people of that persuasion learn to appreciate modern poetry more. You didn't even read his post closely. He said, "what I see in print there" and your reply said, "what you hear on Writer's Almanac." You may have taken his criticism too personally (it's your voice reading the poems, after all) when he was referring to the poems themselves (the way they look on the page). Please try again and "explain it good, like an English major should." It might help a lot of people. One never knows. Thanks, Bob B. (Canton, GA)

I strongly feel that this unrhyming, new fangled way of expression should not go under the title "poetry" but obtain a different lable. I have two self published rhyming verse books out there, and have submitted to P.H.Companion with no results.'Nuff said. From a devoted fan with a strong opinion, Martha

Good Morning -- I'm writing you a certain dissatisfaction with Mr. Keillor's reply to a touching, thought-provoking note about Almanac poems. It was written by one of your / his Missouri readers.

Many times I have appreciated Garrison's salient, pertinent, and humorous replies to stuffed shirts or intolerant persons. I'm sure Bill S. in MO is neither of those. He may be hurt by this one.

Bill has seen something in modern poetry that many us are observing. Mr. Keillor and whoever else chooses the poems of the day can choose as they wish. We will be pleased to read and to learn, and we will have our judgments, too. We do not deserve an off-hand put-down for being interested in the arts and for expecting something worthwhile.

In the past I have paid little attention to those who have told me of Mr. Keillor's piques at appearances in small towns. Today his reply shows me that side of him. Despite that, I will continue to defend him and his contributions to the art of entertainment. If he wants to say something like "So what!" to that, I understand.

Nevertheless, I'm now on record as sympathizing with Bill in MO. And I now know more about how not to tell someone to just go to hell for their thoughtful reactions.

Rodney Hatle
Owatonna MN
p.s. -- The reply to Bill is unsigned whereas Mr. Keillor usually uses his initials. I sort of hope someone was standing in for him w/o his permission.

Dear Mr. Keillor-

I have noticed that my neighbors with snow-blowers have been in stiff competion for bragging rights, racing to clear the sidewalks of both he homebound and the mobile. One of our neighborhood "snow blowers" even volunteered to blow more snow up into our yard so our girls could build a bigger fort.
Perhaps this is inspired by a lack of opportunity in a here-to-for
disappointing snow season. PLEASE adress the issue of competitive snow blowing.
THanks for your time-

Garrison don't listen to him; I love the Writer's Almanac and don't want you to change a thing. I don't always like the poems but it's good to be exposed to new things! Bill S: stop judging!

Today was the first time I have ever read Posts to the Host. I'm hooked. I love the poetry from the Writer's Almanac. Well, most of it. Some I just don't get, but always appreciate the inspiration and the passion which is a rare thing to find these days, for free anyway. Funny, I was just as entertained by Mr. S.'s comments than most anything I've read lately. Bill, keep them coming. (the response was good as well).

the retart (retort) to Bill S'sss lament was a wee bit (and I emphasize BIT) on the salty side of a wounded poetic soul. one pauses to wonder if this was in response to another wounded soul who mistook Bill's wistful nostalgia for my (oh, my) algia... that is, er, ugh, the deep aching one feels for the lost art of poetry. This does not demean what is the current flow of poetry. Nowadays, it sorta trickles in vernacular and intensity. To Virgil, Poe & Dylan are greek to him. To the present reader the latter are greek. Alas, such is much ado 'bout nuthin'. We do have modern day poets such as J Hirschfield, G Snyder, B Collins, N Shihab Nye, etc. who tender spirited words. These folks hear the Beloved whisper... offering to us... an inkling of verses... not oft'
revealed 'n so oft' unbeknownst to the masses. Chris C from the Redlands

I feel sad that Bill can't appreciate much of the poetry on the Writer's Almanac, especially since not infrequently there will be an absolute gem that I just have to draw my family and friends' attention to. The most recent example was "The Invention of Fractions"--wow! Yes, there have been times when I've called up my friend Joyce Sutphen and asked, "Why is this a poem," because it just seems like oddly divided prose, but those are the exception. I find that the ones I generally like the least are the ones that Bill probably prefers: the 19th century standards. Oh well--different strokes . . .

I know what you're talking about, Bill. I'm in the same place. I think what we're seeing is short prose, but there isn't any name for it. It's short prose that comes from experience, but the many layers that made the words magic seem to be missing. M

“What I feel I see in print there are so many small piles of drivel, devoid of thought or effort, consisting of nothing more than ego….”


Bill S.,

The essence of your lament is not in the sincerity of the Writer’s Almanac. It’s in the first five words of your above sentence.

Poetry is an angle of vision for both writer and reader. Like all beauty, it’s a matter of what we choose to see within our own perspective.

Despairing about what “used to be” is an ancient proverb. Often this is a telling clue the one doing the despairing is middle age and has failed to apply sufficient literary lubricant to the frictions time can have on judgment. If not detected and remedied, it can result in artistic osteoporosis.

Faulkner spoke about the poet’s voice and the writer’s duty in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. He implored writers and poets to keep honor, compassion, pity and sacrifice alive as more than just a record — but as pillars for humanity to succeed.

What is artistically authentic survives time.

In order to see this there has to be a willful decision to glean the good. This keeps the eyes clear, the spirit young and the heart pliant.

George B.

St. Paul, MN


Bill S. is right (rite, write). Modern poetry basically sucks. Who anointed T.S. Eliot as a poet for the ages? The rest of the column is pretty good though.

Brian R.

I agree with Bill S. about the poetry, but I am appreciatlive for the opportunity to see it and decide if, although in most cases I don't, like it.

Ron A.

I LOVE the Writer's Almanac, and the fact that it exposes me to so many different kinds of poets and their is mostly all beautiful, or at least thoughtful! PLEASE don't ever stop!

I love the history conveyed in the writer's almanac and often one of the poems hits home.

The most memorable, I think, was Thanks Robert Frost.

It inspired one of my own.

Alone with Robert Frost

Some say fire others ice
With her on that trail
It was fire so nice
She worried about her IQ
AS we walked in your world
And told me as much
In a bar full of light.

Back at you Mr. Frost
And all that you hold dear
At 23 my daughter qualifies
She told my failings
On a beach
Void of her spring companions
Yet livid with purposes
And a life not yet lived,
She is doing so well
Which makes all the difference.

I live in VT and there is a mountain trail dedicated to Mr. Frost, a trail I introduced to a lovely lady from Chicago. She is a Menza, and plays a wonderful violin, in a reading way. We managed to write music at days end. As for my Daughter, her music is continuous. And this is not a dog shedding, more like a snake.

By the way, I love the Writer's Almanac and consider Mr. K. one of the Great American Writers. I live in an area that doesn't have radio coverage and I have no idea what a podcast is, so I'm left to reading the daily offerings. Personnally, I could listen to Mr. K. read a phone book so I know I'm missing volumes of insight. Not all modern poems suck, just the ones when I don't see what the big deal is. It's the only time I get to be a critic. My real problem is geezerhood. As I approach the ages I find myself seeking the ages and I miss them. Time is passing me by and the poems people like today are mostly going right past me without pricking any nerve except the disapointment one. And to be sure, The Writer's Almanac serves up countless items to be tasted, and A Prairie Home Companion has yet to disappoint. Thanks to all.

Hmmm. Methinks that several respondents to this topic have not purchased a copy of (or at the very least bothered to read) Good Poems, edited by our very own GK. In it, he eloquently introduces the collection of poems, both old and new, and with great wit offers explanation as to the why and how of a poem's/poet's inclusion. Perhaps a glance at said introduction might clear things up for a few people, as many of those poems are the ones shared on WA. At the very least, it's yet another chance to read the delightful prose of Mr. Keillor. (And to Bill S. I pose the question, does your frustration have anything to do with your own attempts at publication?)

Our country was formed by individuals not of the herd mentality. So choose from poetry what you will and let others choose their own. The Writer's Almanac represents all poetic forms and long may this spirited website reign!

However, Bill, I do agree, dogs and all animals are poetry in form and substance if man allows them their rights of individuality.

Modern poetry is, largely, indeed terrible. Almost all of it falls into two categories:

1.) Ugly, nonsensical garbage tailor-made to irritate and confuse people as much as possible (i.e., Elfriede Jelinek), and

2.) Contrived, artificially "beautiful", plasticky stuff that you might read on, say, a Hallmark holiday greeting card (go to any online poetry community and you will see these kinds of poems by the thousands).

I know I will get alot of flack for this, but it's actually true: most modern poetry is terrible. However, there are many exceptions to this rule, and I have read incredible, extremely moving poetry written by people who are 30, 20, and even younger. So to sum it up, there's alot of garbage out there, you just need to look for the good stuff, because that too is still out there.

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