Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

10 Greatest 21st Century Poets - The List

10.  Jennifer Reeser     Eratosphere

     As a bayou metrist with a special interest in Russian literature, Jennifer is often compared with Georgian poet A.E. Stallings.  This is like Derek Edwards being the second most famous person from Timmins.  Without question, Ms. Reeser is the more accessible.

     Her lesser works may suffer from clanging rhymes and incongruous voices but pieces like "Compass Rose" transcend what most are able to do in verse.

     She has a bright future in front of her.

9. Marc Kelly Smith      Slam

     While "lightning stitching the sky" is remarkable, the text of Marc's poems will not win him any awards.  Nevertheless, M.K. Smith (1949-Present) invented the slam and remains one of its best least awful performers.  As such, one could argue that, so far, at least, he has had a far more visible impact on the world than all living print and pixel poets combined.  True, given the choice between monotonous readings and 3-minute scream fests the public will still go with TV sitcoms, but at least Marc has given us that second option.

     This recital with hand gestures and without eye contact may be about as close to narrative or lyric poetry performance as we've seen lately:

8. Catherine Ann Rogers   Poets.org

    Geeks aren't swayed much by awards, but do give credence to contests, especially if they are judged blindly by authorities.  An English professor at Savannah State University, Catherine Rogers wrote the Interboard Poetry Community's "Poem of the Year" twice, in  2006, judged by Mark Doty, and 2005, from Judy Kronenfeld.

     In "Refusals" we see three things demonstrated:
  1. why Ms. Rogers is on this list (and why many fine non-versers aren't); and,

  2. why "Autumn Sky Poetry" is considered one of the two most astounding sources of poetry on earth; and,

  3. the difference between free verse and non-rhythmic writing.  After a mixture of iambic and anapestic strings we see the first section end with these anapests:

    Each night | I unrav|el your choice.
    Each morn|ing I wake | to your death.

7. Julie Carter           Usenet

      "Sure [Fred Astaire] was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards...and in high heels!" -- Bob Thaves (1982)

      Without question, Julie Carter is one of the best sonneteers to never win (or be entered to win?) a Nemerov.  As you can see from the .pdf version of "pseudophakia" (2006), Julie's command of phrasing and imagery matches that of anyone short of Karen Solie and Dorianne Laux in the Print World...and Julie does it in verse.  Her down-to-earth style stresses rhythm over sound.

      Our spies tell us Ms. Carter is preparing another collection.  If past experience is any guide, it rates to be the most tragically overlooked book of 2015.  You read it here first!

6. Rose Kelleher          Eratosphere

     The fact that Rose Kelleher is a programmer and technical writer may have helped her cause among our resident geeks.  The mix of humor and elegance in her work reminded many of the poet who tops this list--as does the pacing in "Neanderthal Bone Flute".

     Seventh was the lowest vote that Ms. Kelleher received in the initial voting.  Over time, though, a strange prejudice against consistency seeped in.  Rose's ability to do everything well, and do it in almost every piece, made her a Ted Williams among those wanting a Babe Ruth.  I suppose that home runs give judges something to cite, even if it means burying the fact that Ruth led the league in strikeouts, too.

5. Rhina Polonia Espaillat Eratosphere

    Born in the Dominican Republic in 1932, Rhina Espaillat is often mentioned as one of the top Spanish-language poets of our time.  This raises an interesting question:  "Is being, say, 15th in a culture where poetry is very much alive more impressive than being 5th where poetry is dead?"

    As the finale in "Changleling" demonstates, Rhina's mastery of sound is exceeded by only one other living poet.

This stranger
is you, is all the you there is, my mother,
whose gentler face is gone beyond recall,
and I must love you so, or not at all.

     It isn't hard to see how she won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award twice.  It's equally difficult to find fault with the author of these lines from "Find Work":

she spoke so little it was hard to bear
so much composure, such a truce with time

4. Derek Walcott                                    Print

     That Derek Walcott (1930-01-23 to 2017-03-17) may be the most decorated poet on the planet meant nothing to the geeks.  His medium made things difficult;  some of this books were out of print, making them hard to find in stores or libraries.  Once sufficient copies were located, Walcott's magnus opus, "Omerus", impressed everyone but that was 1990.  "The Prodigal" (2004) and "White Egrets" (2010) drew considerable praise but what convinced skeptics was a technical article from a now-defunct online forum that someone had saved on their hard drive.

     George Elliott Clarke didn't quite make the list.  No other page poet came close.

3. Alicia Elsbeth Stallings  Eratosphere

    While she lacks the common touch we see in the top two, Alicia remains the class of the crossovers.  "Antiblurb" is a masterpiece but what is more stunning is that it is representive of her work is a whole.  If you want to make the argument that knowledge of fundamentals adds charm and consistency to an artist's work Ms. Stallings is your model.

    At the beginning of her career Alicia had to use initials to resubmit poems that were rejected by editors who knew from her first name that she was female.  As you can see, the online community in general and geeks in particular have no time for such discrimination.

2. D.P. Kristalo          Poets.org, Gazebo

    The fact that DPK wrote the most remarkable metrical poem of the last half century wasn't enough.  Granted, the contention that "Joie de Mourir" was in the same class met with guffaws.  (N.B.:  Our voters are not drug tested.)  Nevertheless, her elegy for Maz ended any discussion of her as a fluke.

    When one's worst poem begins with "Let us speak of rumors first;  the pallid truth can wait till later" and ends with "...it will rain champagne before I tell you that I loved her" the judges' job becomes a nobrainer.  One of the best reasons for studying the elements of the craft is to appreciate everything DPK has been able to do with them.

1. Margaret Ann Griffiths Gazebo, Eratosphere, PFFA

    Imagine if the most knowledgeable critics on earth voted T.S. Eliot the poet they'd most want to see in an anthology five months before he wrote his signature poem.  Now suppose "Prufrock" was not a collaboration with the finest prosodist of the era but a solo, unedited first draft.  Would anyone argue about who was the finest poet of the 20th century?

    The moment Margaret (aka "Maz" or "Grasshopper") Ann Griffiths (1947-05-23 to 2009-07-13) entered a contest--slogan, jingle or poetry--the fight for second place began.  If you ask poetry fans who the greatest poet of all time is you will get a variety of answers until someone mentions Shakespeare, whereupon everyone squawks "We assume you meant other than him!"  When you ask who the best poet of the 21st century is you must explicitly add "...including Maz."     

     Needless to say, the vote for Grasshopper as this century's #1 poet was quick and unanimous.


1. 10 Greatest 21st Century Poets - Preamble

2. 10 Greatest 21st Century Poets - Versers

3. 10 Greatest 21st Century Poets - The List

4. 10 Greatest 21st Century Poets - The Geeks

    Your feedback is appreciated!

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel


  1. "lightning stitching the sky" is actually pretty awful.

    1. From a technical point, it is six syllables and only 4 vowel sounds in total. From a "sound and sense" point of view the harsh plosives, highlighted by the consonance of "t" phonemes, is effective. As an image it crackles, albeit not necessarily with originality. All in all, remarkable--especially compared to the rest of his text. What's not to like?

  2. Truly appreciate your feedback on this talented teenager poet's poetry blog. Thank you http://ideaswithink.com/

    1. On the plus side, there is more attention to sounds than one expects from a newcomer. My advice would be to focus on rhythms and narratives, especially in longer works. Avoid overmodification, especially if it leads to "barnacling" (i.e. where one could insert some variation on the word "barnacle" and make about as much sense as the original).

      Does that help?


Your comments and questions are welcome.