Prerequisites for a Trendy Poetry Reading

Casual clothes, streetwise but debonair:
Knit sweater, denims (slightly dishabille);
A tentative, apologetic air,
As if you told what you would most conceal;

Credentials of the avant garde, implied
In the unstudied flexion of your spine;
A contrapposto at the lectern’s side
To match the supine slackness of your line;

Serious subjects, or some apt remark
That shows you au courant with modern times;
Personal torment, but conjoined with stark
Social awareness of our bourgeois crimes;

Above all else, an audience of sods
That hears its platitudes confirmed, and nods.



Poetry Today

Since Baudelaire and Verlaine, the field has shrunk:
Mere feelings, hokum, moral cant, and whining.
In greater ages, poetry was drunk
On Bacchic dance, blood lust, occult divining,
The savagery of Swift, the wit of Byron,
Poe’s death-wish, Dowson’s pedophilic viols;
The obscene lisping of a sluttish siren
Formed Wilde and Swinburne’s Dionysian styles.

No tawdry brothels now, nor spired cathedrals:
Just thatched mud huts for lemmings to call home—
Epiphanies of small, pathetic people
As pallid as a cracked and sunbleached bone.
Today verse wears the regulation dress
Of inoffensive bourgeois politesse.

from The New Formalist



On a Workshopped Poem

How nice! You’ve seen to every single thing.
Congratulations on your deft removal
Of any phrase that might offend or sting
The consciousness of Those Who Grant Approval.

There is no word disparaging or vicious;
No heinous hint of ethnic derogation.
Your verse is free from anything suspicious
Like thought or wit or humorous deflation.

You’ve excised terms insensitive and callous,
All slurs, invective, insult, and aspersions.
You’ve stayed away from vulva and from phallus
(We do not sanction those obscene diversions).

Indeed, you’ve labored long and hard. And now
Your poem is as placid as a cow.



Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.

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25 Responses

  1. Allegra Silberstein

    Hello…wonderful sonnets and I especially love the “Workshopped Poem”!

  2. Brian Yapko

    Thank you for three very fine poems which are painfully observant. I really like your arch tone — especially in “On a Workshopped Poem”. I can’t abide anything written by committee or which demands consensus. That type of spineless approval-seeking is how people become sheeple.

  3. C.B. Anderson

    Well, Joe, all three of these were technically as taut as a triple-C piano wire. But the message — Oh the message! In the spirit of mercy, I hope that none of the malfeasants you advert to read this, because total deflation is sure death. I don’t want them to die; I just want them to go away.

  4. Sally Cook

    Joe you follow the truth where it leads. So few do, and I congratulate you. Truly it is a delight to see in print what so many do not take the trouble to articulate.
    These are fine poems. Not only because of their interesting technical attributes or even their conviction. And certainly not just because of what they make me feel.
    They are not significant because of any emotional reaction on my part or because they offer an opportunity to make a witty riposte.
    Wonderful! Marvelous! Your poems on contemporary
    oets and poetry are good because, in addition to all the above, they reflect the slackness and the wandering desire to follow convention even when it becomes insane. (appropos of this, I would like to hear more from Brian on the Sheeple People, because we are fast becoming just that.)
    Joe, we are all fortunate that you have not yet caught that virus!

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Thank you, Sally. What I really wanted to do, by bringing these three sonnets together here, was to focus on three problems in the contemporary po-biz world. The first poem deals with widespread posturing and virtue-signaling, and the pretense of being “hip” and “cool.” The second poem deals with the growing absence of any interesting subject matter in contemporary poetry, and its replacement by canned piety and “niceness” and personal epiphanies. The third poem deals with the obsessive concern that we not “offend” anyone, and that our poems be approved by focus-groups and majority vote.

      I could have added something about a really big problem, affecting both free verse and formal verse today. And that is the endless flood of poems that are consciously child-friendly and folksy and cutesy-poo and plastered with Smiley-Face buttons, as if we were running a Quaker kindergarten.

      • C.B. Anderson

        What?! You gotta problem wit Quaker kindergartens now? Can’t we all be Friends?

  5. David Watt

    You have summed up trendy poetry perfectly: Placid, pallid, and taking the utmost care not to offend. Thank God we still have poets unwilling to censor themselves into insipidness.

  6. Patricia Redfern

    Poetry, Today, perfect! I cannot bear the kissy-face, 6th grade level topics I witness at other sites. And they win prizes!
    It’s nauseating….politics being the worst thing to write. They won’t write on humanity or survival.Thank you ever so much, Joseph!
    Patricia Redfern

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Thank you, Ms. Redfern. I believe part of the problem at those other sites is that the people who frequent them think of such sites as support-groups or therapy meetings, where everyone reflexively congratulates each other on their “honest expression of true feelings,” or some such irrelevancy, and everyone is in a state of hyped-up enthusiasm.

      • Patricia Redfern

        Joseph, right on the money! “ Soeaking from your heart”.yikes, I hate that kind of comments. Contests are like the Kentucky Derby. WORSE..A CIRCUS with games, everyone in”contests” .I don’t play them.Then I found The Society and awoke to the craziness I was involved in. I can be sane here. So terribly grateful, love the Zoom and videos and beautiful poetry here. Appreciate your thoughtfulness and time. Patricia Redfern

  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Beautifully crafted, highly entertaining, and oh so bloody well true! Thank you!

  8. Norma Okun

    The best line in your poem is “as placid as a cow”
    What is wrong with placid cows? If a poem brings me serenity and comfort, I like it. What are you hoping from poetry? To be a burning forest fire where all goes up in smoke?

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      There’s nothing wrong with some poems being placid, Norma, but not all of them should follow that pattern.. I’d also like to see some poems that kick ass.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Actually, Norma, there’s plenty of human ass out there that deserves severe kicking. If you don’t think so, you must be leading a charmed life.

      • Norma Okun

        According to the gospel, even Moses broke the tablets. But, “kicking blank” the way you are saying it is to me on behalf of an inflamed ego.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The account of Moses smashing the tablets of The Law is in Exodus, not the Gospels.

        “Kicking blank”? What’s the matter, Norma? Can’t you say the word “ass”?

  9. Gregory Spicer


    Conform all verse to what I say!
    All other poems are too weak
    And may just seem a little bleak
    If people don’t do things my way!
    It’s true, you know, I wouldn’t lie!
    I will not shoot you for your thoughts
    Since I’m…Professor Polyglots…
    On sixty’s acid perma-fry!

    Oh no! Not so! I am quite sane!
    And claim as I more contradict
    That I, to ego, do not addict
    Or otherwise become inane…
    Because when I mastered humanities…
    I immunized from vanities!

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Once again, Spicer proves that he has no skill whatsoever in poetry.

  10. S.A.Todd

    Really enjoyed these, thanks, especially that last couplet in ‘Prerequisites’ which was deliciously on point! – Steve


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