In its highly anticipated 100 Notable Books of 2012, The New York Times selected two books of poetry. That wouldn’t be so bad, actually, if the subtitle didn’t read:
The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.
Implicit in its focus on the “the big three” should be, well, a focus on the big three. What happened instead was a focus on fiction and nonfiction and then a sprinkling in of two poetry books. The sprinkling enabled “poetry” to fit in the subtitle which enabled the Times to appear literary, cool (yes, mentioning poetry is still cool when it comes to literature) and avoid taking heat for their blatantly ignoring poetry. See, ignoring poetry is fine so long as it’s not too blatant. Blatant would have been having three categories, but they chose two so that they could slip in their sprinklings with the wave of fiction.
Look, I’m the first to admit that poetry readership can barely be compared to that of fiction and nonfiction. I’m not asking for a 33-33-34 equality breakdown and I would not have felt the need to pen an article if they had included, say, five books of contemporary poetry. But two felt like a slap in the face, especially since the recently-deceased Jack Gilbert made the list with his Collected Poems in a move most of us who know poetry would not describe as coincidence or irony. Token feels closer to right.
I’m biased, this is true. But when non-readers, fiction and nonfiction writers alike all made comments about the snubbing of poetry I felt compelled to say a thing or two. Compiling a list of 100 books is noble, especially in 2012. I admire the NYTimes for giving it a whirl. But I can’t shy away from saying that as a fan and loyal reader of NYTimes I felt disappointed, and as a poet and ambassador of the genre I felt beyond disappointment and more like what would be created if disappointment dipped its legs into hurt and embarrassment.
Article originally published here on Examiner.com.