Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Here is my question.

Now that John Ashbery is not here, who would you say the greatest living American poet is?

Harold Bloom would surely tell us, but he is not here anymore, either.

Marjorie Perloff would no doubt say Kenneth Goldsmith, but we know how anachronistically sad and funny that call is.

I know my unusual question might seem silly, but it really isn’t, when you think about it.

Because in the history of American poetry, going back to the time of Longfellow, if not before, there has always been, without interruption, from what I can tell, some figure (or figures, plural, it doesn’t have to be a single one) who is generally considered the greatest or most prominent poet alive. Ashbery had the unofficial but key honor in the last decade of his life, or more, and across a generational and aesthetic divide.

Are there one, or two, maybe even three, still-kicking, who you think fit the bill as the Greatest Living Poet[s] of these Last Days?


–Writing/Editing a Book/Anthology, to be subtitled, “The Unofficial (Often Forgotten) Laureate Poets in the History of Our Great American Nation”



Dear Writing/Editing a Book/Anthology, to be subtitled, “The Unofficial (Often Forgotten) Laureate Poets in the History of our Great American Nation,”

Just a note of reminder to start, dear: “America” or “American” would encompass all of the Americas, North, Central, and South. So I would strongly suggest you change the reference to “U.S.” for your book project. Or perhaps you could replace “Our Great American Nation” with “Our Great Imperial Empire.”

That aside, and don’t think I’m pulling your leg in saying this: I have it on very good authority that John Ashbery is not yet dead.

You apparently haven’t heard about this, but in the past year there have been a few (some of them intriguingly credible) sightings of the old man in and around Ocean Falls, Canada, a one-time thriving town on the Central Lost Coast of British Columbia. It is now falling into the most singular, movie-set decay and forgetfulness. It is only accessible by boat or seaplane, the vast BC rainforest surrounding it on all sides except for the fog-ridden ocean to its west. A company mill town with a population of 4000 as late as the 1950s, its main industry today is as a far-flung destination for a gaggle of seasonal grizzly hunters and the occasional Big Foot-seeking eccentrics, as detailed in the totally underrated 2019 book, In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch, by John Zada, with whom I have recently been in touch.

Ocean Falls has more annual rainfall than any other city of all of North America, Canada, the U.S. or Mexico included. It rains constantly. It rains so much that the one hundred or so remaining denizens are known by the indigenous communities of BC as “The Rain People.” In other words, it is a perfect place to hide out if you’re a famous retired poet, wishing to ditch the world at the very end: Pedestrians aren’t exactly looking around and spotting supposedly dead great poets on the nearly deserted streets, in a downpour.

I have seen a photograph (I cannot say who showed me, by name; she is a private detective still on the case), somewhat grainy. It depicts a gap-toothed, somewhat bewildered-looking old-timer at the once-bustling 400-room Martin Hotel, abandoned, now, except for its Twin Peaks-like bar (open only on weekends, currently). He is holding a martini glass. He bears an off-center wig and clearly fake 70s-era moustache. But his face shows an uncanny resemblance to that of John Ashbery’s last known Author photo, on the back cover of Commotion of the Birds. The detective says she has more evidence she cannot share, because her “clients” will not allow it.

Keep in mind that Ashbery strongly alludes to Ocean Falls, in indirect but unmistakably longing tones, twice (arguably three times), in his late oeuvre.

So, in short, let’s not jump the death-gun, nor the ghostly farm implements in a field of cannabis. Something tells me the great and deep lover of mystery authorships may well have pulled a last big one on us.

Thus, I will say that John Ashbery is still our Unofficial Poet Laureate, my Miss or Mr. America, and will remain so, until it’s irrefutably proven that he is truly passed into the noble beyond.

However, in the event he is no longer with us, and to answer your specific question, in that case:

I’d probably say Douglas Crase, who more or less disappeared after his one and only, totally astonishing, better-than-Ashbery book, The Revisionist, was published on April Fool’s Day, 1981. Crase basically and inexplicably disappeared from the poetry scene after that. Have you heard of him? I doubt it. He is still definitely alive, residing, I’ve been told, in a dilapidated apartment building, right above a cheap but excellent Hmong restaurant, in the Bronx.

Or it could be Cecilia Vicuña. Who is from Chile. Which is, if you look on a map, in America.

–Emily Post-Avant