Monday, August 13, 2012

Why 105 Volumes of Poetry is Small and Large

Last week, I published an updated list of our program's volumes of poetry, which now includes 105 titles.  That's a small or large number depending on your perspective. Many readers, a large number of whom are less familiar with contemporary African American poetry, might find the list intimidating. Many poets would easily recognize absences and limits concerning the list.

In fact, shortly after I published the entry highlighting 105 volumes, I received email messages from 6 or so different poets informing me that I neglected to include their books. In their view, my list was, at the very least, one volume too short. I jotted down the name and book title of each poet who contacted  me and let them know that when and if my program received more funds I would certainly try to include their book in our collection.

The dozens of students whom I interact with each semester hardly think that our collection needs to expand. There is a consistent suggestion, if not critique, among students in my literature courses that we lessen the number of poets we cover so that we have can spend more time on select figures. When I first began coordinating "browsing sessions" for students to peruse our titles, I quickly learned that they were often overwhelmed by all the books and sometimes turned off.

It's understandable when readers would want less poetry and why poets would want more. Many readers need and want assistance filtering the many choices before them in the world of poetry. Poets -- and there are arguably more now than at any point in history -- rightly yearn to get published and have their works recognized.  
Literature teachers and writers who focus on poetry have some serious though under-discussed challenges when it comes to addressing the expectations and needs of readers, on the one hand, and poets on the other. How do we, for instance, present lists of poetry that are not too large and not too small? Figuring out an adequate balance (or comprise?) will take a while. I'd love to hear what some of you think about the matter. 

20 Anthologies featuring African American Poetry, 2003 - 2011 
20 Anthologies featuring African American Poetry, 1992 - 2002  
15 Scholarly Books on African American Poetry
105 African American Volumes of Poetry by Publisher, 2000 - 2012
105 volumes of poetry by year, 2000-2012
Some Volumes of Poetry Published During the 1990s 
10 Books of Collected Works by African American Poets from the 1990s
10 Notable African American Anthologies Feat. Poetry from the 1990s  
30 Anthologies featuring Black Poetry, 1968-1975
African American Poets
A Timeline of African American Poetry


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