A writer-editor-teacher’s quote of the week #147

Conventional wisdom has it that most of the poetry written in an era is fated to be minor. In the cosmic view of things, this proposition seems self-evident. Judged by the standards of Shakespeare and Milton, how many contemporaries will strike future generations as major? Critics, whose job it is to make discriminations, are not the only ones who put poets in their place. The poets themselves do it unconsciously. It may help motivate us — some of us anyway — to adopt Hemingway’s metaphor and imagine that we are getting in the ring with Rilke when we write our next poem. Reading, however, as lovers of poetry rather than as pugnacious aspirants to personal greatness, we are bound to be less severe in our judgment, more generous with our hearts. Reading for the pure pleasure of it, we find abundance.

— from David Lehman’s “Foreword” to The Best American Poetry, 1991, edited by Mark Strand

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