Was Def Leppard right? Well, that all depends on how you fade away I guess. Last night while at the Modest Mouse show here in Raleigh, I couldn't stop thinking about how most everyone I know thinks they've lost it and have been fading away ever since The Moon & Antarctica. But I really love the last two albums. This seems to be my m.o.--I stay on board for what seems like an uncool amount of time, long after my hipper friends have abandon ship (or is it abandoned ship?). I liked post-Green REM and post-Achtung Baby U2 and post-TEN Pearl Jam. Granted, all three bands have finally lost me. I was on board for Wilco's A Ghost is Born, but Sky Blue Sky has forced an ultimatum on their 2009 release: If it's no better, I'm out. But, people seem to be less patient, even with newer bands. For example, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's second album seemed to thud, and most people I talk to already think Arcade Fire has sold out. I love both sophmore albums.
So how do we deal when poets we admire change? Or stay the same for that matter? Is it them? Or is it us? We seem to complain when poets keep pumping out the same poem/book over and over. They're mailing it in, we say. They're work has become formulaic. They are bad imitations of themselves. And in many cases, this is totally true. There are countless examples of poets who write the same type of poem ad infinitum, minus the genius they perhaps once had. It's like they have a bad marriage with their own writing. It's still going on, but the spark is gone. But the opposite seems to be as true...when poets shift styles from book to book (or even from section to section within a book) and we feel betrayed. And rightly so if it is a shift towards something lighter or less rigrorous/intense/interesting...less good.
But certainly we as readers (or as listeners in the above scenario) are sometimes at fault, bailing or tuning out too early. Doesn't a poet at some point earn the right to evolve/shift radically? Or to make a career out of writing the same great poem over and over? Or even earn the right to write a flat book? Isn't it our job to be a little more loyal? To keep myself from being too antsy, I give myself a two-book rule. If a poet I love writes a bad book, so what. If she redeems herself with the next book, we're cool. If she puts out two duds in a row though, I reserve the right to move on.
Barring poets who offed themselves early on--I'm thinking about poets who had long-ish careers--what poets lost it and what poets kept evolving and reinventing themselves right up until the end, in a good way? Or at least kept writing the same thing at the same level and didn't take a nose dive when they got older? What poets did people bail too early on, either for writing the same thing over and over again (albeit really well) or for shifting style mid-career and pissing off the fan base?