Visiting Poets

True story. Circa 1992 or 1993, a certain prize-winning poet who shall remain nameless came to Arkansas conduct a workshop and do a reading, etc. At the after-reading party in Jim Whitehead’s basement, the drinks started flowing (I know, that never happens), and said poet got into an argument with Graham Lewis (1962-2008) that almost came to blows. I forget exactly what the argument was about, but I do recall Graham mentioning that he submitted work to The American Poetry Review, to which the visiting poet responded that APR wasn’t worthy of lining a bird cage, and it escalated from there. The following poem is based on what I do remember.


Visiting Poets

A student asked the visiting poet: “So, what do I do once I get my degree? Do I worry about publishing? Do I teach?”[1] The visiting poet replied, “When I was a student, I challenged the visiting poet like this[2]: I have a wager for you.[3] Name any one of your poems, and I will recite it from memory without faltering. Five cents a line.[4]By the end of the night, O student, I had his money!”[5]


1. He is not concerned with money.
2. He fancies himself a master, but his story is about himself.
3. He was not concerned with money (far worse).
4. What an asshole.
5. Good for him, but tell me, who was more desperate?


A decade later, I published it in The American Poetry Review, which pleased Graham to no end.

Visiting Poets

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