Q & A: American Poetry

Q & A American Poetry: Hal Sirowitz

When I was in Scotland I met a Scottish poet who rhymed in every poem. Sometimes the rhymes worked. Other times they didn't. I asked him if he'd ever consider writing a poem that didn't rhyme. He gave me a perplexed look and said, "If I ever decided not to use rhyme I'd just have too much to say. I need limitations."

And I realized a big difference between our poetry was that I came from an American tradition of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams who radicalized form. It was easier for me to use free verse because of the work American poets did before me. American poets created an opening for me where instead of dealing with the limitations of form I could work on the limitations of language—how we say one thing but mean another.

And just like America was once described as a melting pot our poetry consists of many styles which co-exist. Robert Frost once said that blank verse was like playing tennis without a net. But that's how I prefer to play the game. I'm not competitive. I prefer to have long volleys without keeping score.

And when Duke Ellington was asked what type of music he liked he said there were only two types of music—good or bad music. And the same can be said of American poetry. It shouldn't be the style which the poet chooses to write in that determines whether it's good or bad but how well the poet communicates to the audience.

More Q & A: American Poetry