6.12.2007

Effigy Poetics



Thanks to all who linked to the TIME magazine article about why poetry sucks and doesn't meet anyone's needs. After reading it, I feel like I am now a part of a very hoity-toity circle of airbags—like the Marketing Department in Dilbert but with bigger vocabularies.

Blaming poets for poetry sucking seems like the right thing to do. After all, we don't blame the gun for killing someone, we blame the gun manufacturer. We don't blame the cigarette, we blame tobacco companies. We don't blame the customs agent, we blame the tuberculosis-infected individual who slipped through. Perhaps one day soon there will be a class-action lawsuit against all poets everywhere. For making poetry suck.

It's helpful, too, then, that people across the country are asking poets why our poetry sucks so bad. Why are we wasting time with the lyric when we could be tittilating folks with filthy limericks and the like? And isn't the haiku just so darling? With poetry like this, we could reel in both the WWF Smackdown audience AND all six people who were watching Men in Trees this year.

If poetry were more popular, perhaps we could encourage America's most avid and widely-read readers to put down their Danielle Steele novels and try something new.

In all honesty, though, if I really were to choose some people to blame for people's dislike (and distrust) of contemporary poetry, I'd look at the English teachers. The handgun-wielders. The cigarette smokers. The people who put poetry into action for young people, when attitudes and associations are formed about literary and poetry.

How many of us sat through classes where imagery was "decoded," where symbols were "demystified," "explained"? How many of us read actual living poets when we were school—or poems written before 1940? And it's not even really the teachers' faults, many of whom aren't and will never be able to receive poetry as anything other than a set of tropes and codes, meter and rhyme, etc. That's what they were taught. And education is, after all, catching.

And what about our textbook publishers, who select poetry that doesn't connect to young people? The world is no longer as interested in writing by the Big White Guys anymore. Even white kids are tired of reading it. An effort to represent the poetry being written today would be more beneficial in raising poetry's cultural quotient.

Billy Collins isn't for everybody. Nikki Giovanni isn't for everybody. But Billy is for some people, and Nikki is for some people, and for the rest of us there's still an enormous widening gyre of poets and books to be read.

When people lament that only poets are reading poetry, it exposes their naievete. Of course we are. Because we know there's so much good stuff out there. If you're not reading poetry, there's something wrong with you, not us.

8 comments:

  1. when nikki giovanni shook my hand she had ink all over it.

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  2. Hear, hear!

    "If you're not reading poetry, there's something wrong with you, not us."

    Right on!

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  3. I'm glad to see another person blog on the article. Power in numbers.

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  4. Best thing I read all day, Charlie. nice work.


    How many of us read actual living poets when we were school—or poems written before 1940? And it's not even really the teachers' faults, many of whom aren't and will never be able to receive poetry as anything other than a set of tropes and codes, meter and rhyme, etc. That's what they were taught. And education is, after all, catching.


    ***This is so true. Imagine how many more readers poetry would have if students realized it was also written in their language about things important to them! Imagine!

    Great post. You had me at "hoity-toity cricle of airbags..."

    best,
    Kel

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  5. I think you really crystallized where people become estranged from poetry - in high school English classes, perpetuating the notion that poems are mysteries which can only be unlocked by a few. Even at that age, I remember enjoying writing my own stories and poems, but being horrified by those textbook test questions like "Why couldn't Emily Dickinson stop for death?"

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  6. oh baby, you are so coherent and ...just smart... it almost makes me hot!

    Thanks for this

    shann

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