Did anyone listen to A Prairie Home Companion tonight, broadcast from NYC? Billy Collins, in addition to reading some poems, played a character in the Guy Noir segment whose family had become filthy rich from starting the MFA programs that have proliferated across the U.S., actually a mafia operation. Hilarious.
Billy Collins is a broad satirist, essentially, and I think that's the secret to his popular appeal. His critics accuse him of sentimentalism, but in fact he's the opposite; the best Collins poems are actually plain-spoken assaults on various pretences. He is guilty of cuteness--when his satire has no edge.
A satirist has a great advantage over his competition, for satire involves imitation, and so there is a built-in excuse to use what is already loved and known. The affable, gentle, deftness of Collins' satire is what sets him apart.
Keillor and Collins both love the plain-spoken poem and occupy lofty enough independent positions to laugh at MFA pretentiousness.
Collins does come from the MFA world, however, and knowing his mainstream satiric approach, Collins would probably laugh at Foetry.com's concern for corruption--'come, come, it's no mafia
, Billy would say, no one's really getting rich, it's only higher education, after all, etc' but we've heard this argument before (no one is getting rich) and that argument is simply not true, because literary reputation and teaching/director positions do equal wealth to most of us.
True, foetry is a fastidious kind of corruption and so Foetry.com is guilty of fastidiousness since like the dyer's hand, etc but no poetry, even the kind loved by Keillor and Collins, escapes fastidiousness.
August Kleinzahler, who used the pages of "Poetry" magazine to famously attack Keillor (I, too, cannot stand Keillor's 'treacly baritone') for his mainstream poetic approach, had an equally vituperative, venting essay prior to his "Poetry" assault in "Fulcrum's" first issue in 2001. Kleinzahler wants poetry to be difficult and challenge bourgeois values, that old gripe which never dies. Kleinzahler is guilty himself of thinking he is above the fastidiousness of poetry (while coming across as an extremely fastidious person) and he has since dismissed other poets--in a recent interview--as 'children.' I imagine "Fulcrum" is too important now to ever publish unwashed Kleinzahler-type screeds again, but I have no trouble imagining why Kleinzahler may have come to his conclusion that 'poets are children.' Mr. Kleinzahler had his chance to demolish the Collins/Keillor school, but Kleinzahler (while getting in some good shots) finally came across as too rancorous and only aided their cause.
Let me guess. Fulcrum's
"children" will continue to publish Billy Collins, but not August Kleinzahler.