There is a cartoon that I see from time to time called "Pluggers," a one-panel affair offering variations on a single theme: "You're a plugger if. . . . " One can qualify as a plugger by virtue of having stacked a woodpile taller than his house; loaded a freezer full of individual servings of delicious entrees; arranged all bills, canceled checks, and receipts in the exact order of Form 1040; and so on. It's a variation on the tortoise and hare ethos: slow and steady wins the race. The repeated moral of "Pluggers" takes a clear slap at the procrastinator, the prodigy, the flash in the pan, and the one-hit wonder and serves as an anodyne to the persistent plodder, the commission-only man, and all those faced with seemingly endless tasks who have learned that mountains get reduced to molehills one pebble at a time.

Are most poets pluggers? Alas, no. Where are the Younger Poets of yesteryear? Gone for tenure, every one. In most cases it seems that the work ethic vanishes almost as quickly as inspiration, and most mid- and late-career collections seem content merely to reiterate old themes, in language and forms whose laxity reflects the sedentariness and safety of professional sinecures: the books keep coming, but they seem more attuned to the tastes of deans and promotion committees than to those of discriminating readers. For the poet who has published a volume of selected or collected...

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