In 2004, I saw Richard Howard introduce a student poetry reading. He told an anecdote about traveling and being asked what he did for a living. Howard didn’t respond with “poet,” though surely the Pulitzer Prize-winner deserves the title; instead, he said “writer.” He explained that this was his normal response, though sometimes he added “teacher.” The story was an illustration of how cut off the poetry world is—cut off so much that an honest answer to a generic question would require explanation, if not evidence.
There are a lot of avid readers who haven’t read a poem (let alone a book of poetry!) since college. A probable cause is the stigma of inaccessibility surrounding the genre: poets are “elitist” and poetry is “boring.” Fortunately, there are a lot of amazing writers who can make converts of even the most staunch opponents of verse. I often proselytize with three collections: The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forché for non-fiction lovers; Selected Poems by James Wright for those who prefer fiction; and Cronopios and Famas by Julio Cortázar (translated by Paul Blackburn) for anyone left uncategorized.
Bio: Erica Wright is the poetry editor at Guernica.