Thursday, December 17, 2009

Prepare to Get Inspired

Via Daniela Olszewska, I found this hilariously inclusive list of "50 of the Most Inspiring Authors in the World" (as she put it, this gets the award for Widest Net Cast) assembled by the staff of Poets & Writers. Some gems therein (and yes these are exact quotes):

Elizabeth Alexander
There was too much chatter about the quality of the poem. What matters is that she was up there reading it—a poem!—on the biggest and most inspiring stage in recent history. [So, what exactly are we supposed to be inspired by? Her proximity in space to other inspiring (and large) objects, or how she reminded us poems exist?]

Billy Collins
He's made accessible a dirty word by celebrating the poetic pleasures and small comforts of ordinary life in a way that encourages us to celebrate them too. [How does that make "accessible" a dirty word? Basic confusion of what a "dirty word" is? Better example: Shitty.]

Donald Hall
The image of the eighty-one-year-old on the cover of Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry pretty much says it all. [This is the image ... huh? Generic old man at desk w/ generic lamp says what all? I guess the point is he's old.]

Barack Obama
Let's never forget that our first African American president is also a best-selling author. [Jesus Christ, lest we forget. Never forget!!]

Thomas Pynchon
He's like Proust. We could live our whole lives and never read Gravity's Rainbow...and still be inspired by it. [Facepalm]

Frederick Seidel
Sure he's filthy rich, but the man knows how to spend his money. He owns four Ducati motorcycles and he writes poems about them (probably while wearing a suit). [Holy shit. Why isn't Donald Trump on this list? He's written books, right?]

Gay Talese
The New Journalism. [WTF???]


Talk about your simplistic models of inspiration. Half the reasons listed are basically paraphrases of "Other people seem to think they're important." E.g. "Best-selling Nigerian novelist." Millions of Nigerians can't be wrong!

Seriously, I love this idea that these authors' mere existence is inspiring. Just put one of these books on your coffee table, pour yourself a scotch and feeling the fucking glow.


  1. For an "authors' list of the world," I find it surprisingly American-centric, with the token foreigners here and there.

  2. And the foreign authors are inspiring by virtue of being foreign. No need to read them!

  3. The Donald Hall picture pretty much says "Don't think about me and Jane Kenyon or you'll find it creepier and creepier..."

    If only Frederick Seidel could write GOOD poems about his Ducati motorcycles.

    Half of these seem like they're insulting the "inspiring" writers.

  4. i wish i wrote as good as seidel

  5. He writes some excellent lines. They get worse the more he writes about the trappings of wealthy lifestyle, and women's breasts, and sex.

  6. Matt I've read poems of yours I liked more than Seidel's.

  7. Oh, but that said, I wasn't criticizing the people on the list, really, just the dumb reasons.

  8. It's interesting (or maybe not much) in light of this kind of stuff to think about the relationship between the cult of the author and the cult of the celebrity. The author is some sort of fringe celebrity; it's inspiring that the author is on stage, having a moment of celebrity, because authors don't really get that many moments on the public stage. Does anybody say "It was really inspiring to see Tom Hanks on the big screen"? Of course not, because it's expected. But people can say "OMG: was that actually real footage of a real writer in a real place?"

    Maybe some day a poet will get as big as The Pussycat Dolls and have a reality TV show.

    In the meantime, thanks for putting this stuff down. Your annoyance really inspires me.

    Word verification: acties.

  9. I guess I would have been more inspired if it was a good writer (read: one I like), instead of just a writer, period.

    I can get annoyed with the best of them.

  10. Totally hilarious, Elisa. Thank you!

  11. This is probably obvious, but I'm just going to point out that the idea of P&W setting out to "inspire" writers is self-evidently absurd. P&W's whole M.O. -- whether or not they realize it themselves -- is to terrify writers in order to convince them that they're completely doomed without the sherpalike guidance of, um, P&W. This is what is known as a "racket."

  12. "whether or not they realize it themselves" -- yeah, I mean, P&W: in a case like this it's hard to know if one should be cynical about their intentions or just dismiss them as retarded.

  13. I imagine them, like certain types of dinosaur, to possess multiple brains, some of which are extremely primitive.

  14. Let's hope they wrote this list with their ass brain.

  15. My favorite (from the P&W list, though not included in the examples you've given here) was their comment about another of their picks, Tom Wolfe: "The white suit."

    This kind of stuff in Poets & Writers reminds me of CNN and lots of local "news" shows when they've gotten through the first two minutes and then spend the rest of the show doing consumer alerts, restaurant reviews, and "fun places to shop."

  16. Seems like it must have been the ass brain to come up with copy like "Didion's simple, unsentimental prose is pure inspirational power" and "Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricotte: Two poets, two words: Cave Canem" and "Kathryn Harrison: It takes courage to write THE KISS. Plain and simple." All of the language sounds like an in-flight magazine or a car commercial.

  17. I just realized this is what Larry King's old USA Today column would have been like if it had been about writers. "Call me crazy, but I say that Toni Morrison is a heck of an author!"