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But there are enough poets to make that local fame relatively meaningful.
There have never before been so many new books of poetry published, so many anthologies or literary magazines.
Never has it been so easy to earn a living as a poet.
Reputations are made and rewards distributed within the poetry subculture.
To adapt Russell Jacoby’s definition of contemporary academic renown from The Last Intellectuals, a “famous” poet now means someone famous only to other poets.
But as individual artists they are almost invisible.
What makes the situation of contemporary poets particularly surprising is that it comes at a moment of unprecedented expansion for the art.With an average of ten poetry students in each graduate section, these programs alone will produce about 20,000 accredited professional poets over the next decade.From such statistics an observer might easily conclude that we live in the golden age of American poetry.Over the past half century, as American poetry’s specialist audience has steadily expanded, its general readership has declined.Moreover, the engines that have driven poetry’s institutional success—the explosion of academic writing programs, the proliferation of subsidized magazines and presses, the emergence of a creative-writing career track, and the migration of American literary culture to the university—have unwittingly contributed to its disappearance from public view.One also finds a complex network of public subvention for poets, funded by federal, state, and local agencies, augmented by private support in the form of foundation fellowships, prizes, and subsidized retreats.There has also never before been so much published criticism about contemporary poetry; it fills dozens of literary newsletters and scholarly journals.There are now several thousand college-level jobs in teaching creative writing, and many more at the primary and secondary levels.Congress has even instituted the position of poet laureate, as have twenty-five states.Its Own World To the average reader, the proposition that poetry’s audience has declined may seem self-evident.It is symptomatic of the art’s current isolation that within the subculture such notions are often rejected.