100 Most Powerful Poets in America

Victoria Chang was wondering in her blog today about the proliferation of business school rankings and the rarity of CW program rankings. As I replied to her post, I found myself asking, Wouldn't it be interesting if Poets & Writers compiled a list of the 100 Most Powerful Poets in America?

And who would be on that list?

Certainly I'd expect to see C. D. Wright there, as she just won that enormous prize, and Billy Collins, Louise Glück. I think I'd have to tip a hat to Jorie Graham and some Iowa folks. Is there room for Adrienne Rich over at Stanford? What about non-academe poets?

I guess I'm also asking what a powerful poet is and what he or she does.

Is it the degree to which the poet reinvents or subverts language? Then add Lyn Hejinian, Kathleen Fraser, Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman to the list (for starters!).

Is it the size of their sphere of influence? Who among you have met Norman Dubie and not been indelibly changed? He's on the list.

What about the anthologists? People collecting and organizing current and past poets into contexts? Or Donald Lehman for orchestrating the annual "Best American Poetry" series? Would the guest editors of those editions need to be on the list?

Are they the most prize-winningest, most oft-booked for readings, most sincere, most influential?

Who do you think they are?


  1. What a cool question. The criteria would be the hardest to determine. I think criteria in general is hard (I mean, how the heck do they determine what books are finalists for the Pulitzer, for example?) Who really knows? Would good editors make it because of their influence, even if they aren't as good poets? Komunyakka, Dove, Dean Young, Voigt, Hoagland, Hirsch, Baker, Hummer, Susan Stewart, Mchugh, Li-Young Lee, Boland, Gregerson, Fulton, Brock-Broido, and on and on, this would be a fun exercise. I wonder if non-academics would even make the list? I can't even think of non-academics, do you know of any?

  2. Li-Young is technically not an "academic" poet because he doesn't work in Academia. Unless you're counting the occasional reading gig or visiting writer gig. But he's not permenant faculty at an institution.