The difficulty in choosing contemporary writers for the All-Time American Writer Tournament is the way writing has become the academic "literary" art, on one hand, and the crassly commercial on the other. Nowhere is this divide better seen than in the realm of poetry.
Who, for instance, is a major, younger American poet? Peter Gizzi? He might be, but his work is so language-poetry influenced that it's the kind of thing which sits lifeless on a page, and when read, puts listeners to sleep.
Saul Williams? He's helped bring poetry back into the mainstream, is marketing the art in new ways, and gives dynamic readings. Yet his work fails to explore the creative possibilities opened up by the masters of American poetic history, including individuals already part of the tournament seedings.
One kind of poet is completely the captive of the academy. The other, of commerce.
As with the American novel, and the short story, the poetic art over the past fifty years has regressed.
The few poets who bridge the divide, creating a synthesis between both streams, practice their work in obscurity.