Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Poetry Supremacy

Just the other day, a friend marvelously accused me of being a "poetry supremacist." To which I replied, of course! Poetry, poetry, poetry!

I feel that one of the problems nowadays with poets and poetry lovers is that we are too timid about the writing/art form that we love. Not necessarily timid to one another. But timid in front of "the others," whom we often just feel and treat as if they do not "get" it and leave out of the conversation. By "the others," I am referring to about 95 percent of the world's population.

I think that it is partly because, as I put it in an earlier post, "Poets are losers." You just cannot go around saying you are "a poet" -- unless you are a poetry professor -- without getting "looks." Even if you are a poetry professor, I would imagine that saying you are "a poetry professor" sounds better than saying you are "a poet."

But why? There are many reasons why. In this post, I am suggesting that part of the responsibility/blame must lie in poets and poetry lovers who have weakened in the face of what I call "cocktail party skeptics" of poetry and have complicitly helped allow the art form to reach close to the apex of literary marginalization. I am suggesting that there must be a more aggressive effort to reach out to the other 95 percent of the population.

For example, I give big props to poet David Lehman for establishing the Best American Poetry series. The sensationalism of the title helps the books sell. Another example would be my call for the inclusion of more living poets in K-12 English education. From my K-12 education, I learned that all poets are dead, because we only read dead poets. Now I have to admit that there are some above-average dead poets out there, but there are living poets as well.

Do you know who knows about the timidity in poetry? Answer: Vanity publishers. I've been around the block. I've seen Asian-American names in the vanity volumes. They've successfully tapped into a market filled with people who have little or no confidence in the art form. At bottom, I think their success rests in capitalizing upon a beleagured audience that lacks any sense about the artistic value of poetry. Some responsibility must rest upon "the poetry establishment" -- the several dozen or so poets with the economic and star power to change things.

I also would add that part of the issue is the "poets' personality." In other words, is there a "poets' personality"? I've joked that I can identify a poet just by looking at a person, and I don't think I'm too far off. It's hard to describe. Poets just look like they are a bit withdrawn into themselves, like they are thinking all the time, like they are perpetually contemplating something brilliant and are just on the edge of forming it but are not quite there yet. I may post more about this later...

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