The other day I found myself in William and Mary's bookstore which is basically a Barnes and Noble with a textbook section in the basement. Being a college graduate now, I was curious about what books they are making the poor children read in English classes at the prestigious Virgina college. It wasn't but two years ago that I did the same thing and found a copy of Charles Simic's "The World Doesn't End"--a book I'd been looking for--sitting on one of the shelves.
Sadly, I made no similar discoveries. In fact, there were probably enough poetry books on the nearly 20 feet of shelf space occupied by the English textbooks to count on two hands. Half of those books were anthologies. Of the books that were individual collections of poetry most were of the ethnic-American sort. Not that there is anything wrong with that on its face, but it was clear based on the books in proximity to those collection that the poetry filled a genre void in a class otherwise devoted to race and not primarily poetry. One got the impression upon viewing the shelves that poetry is more and more becoming an exotic bowl in a china shop. Interesting to look at, but not something you want your neighbors finding on your living room table. "Who would buy a bowl that looks like that?"
There really is a place for poetry in the college English program. I just suspect the professors are getting more and more daunted by the prospect of teaching it. They avoid having to really come to terms with the 'tradition' by padding poetry courses with period poets (Dickinson, Whitman, Hughes etc). These poets are about as safe as they come. They've already been well canonized and most literate adults have at least encountered them once before. For example, they were the sole focus of the only poetry unit I had in highschool. At the conclusion of that unit we all wrote "Songs of Ourselves". Yawn. At Brown University there is a contemporary American poets course that doesn't even touch Creeley, Ashbery, Ginsberg, O'Hara, Baraka etc. Now, I realize I'm being a little bitchy here, but I think professors in English departments need to grow some backbone and start teaching this stuff. There is an absolutely rich tradition of writing in America that most people are barely aware of! At the very least, an education in it would provide a great counter to foreign attacks on our lack of 'culture'. Additionally, a lot of contemporary poetry would act as a great background upon which to teach a lot of the concepts introduced in literary theory courses.
I digress, but would recommend "Hell's Angels" by Hunter Thompson. It's been providing some entertaining reading while my parents and I have been shuttling around the south.