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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

90% of Americans Value Poetry

posted by on February 20 at 15:08 PM

So how come no one reads it? Or buys it? Did high modernism ruin everything? Is the Poetry Foundation ruining everything? Are Republicans in charge of the future of American poetry? Did that reclusive old lady really mean to give 200 million dollars to Poetry magazine? Is the windfall going to be their undoing? Why is J.D. McClatchy so bent out of shape? What does a former editor of The Stranger have to do with all this? Was John Donne actually a pimp?

These and other topics are addressed in this excellent piece by Dana Goodyear in the current New Yorker.

Word on the street is that the Poetry Foundation is in a tizzy over it.

UPDATE: The Poetry Foundation’s response to the article.

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They value homegrown - write it and read it. Commercial poetry is second-hand.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 20, 2007 3:18 PM

People still publish poetry? I thought poetry was now just a tool to let college students delude themselves into thinking they have a career outside cubicles when they receive applause at open mike nights full of others with the same delusion.

Posted by Gitai | February 20, 2007 3:19 PM

People say they value poetry to sound smart. Cause they think that is how you sound smart.

It's the same type of person that goes on and on about globalization and the WTO, while drinking Dole juice and Bacardi Rum, listening to their iPod, sitting on IKEA furniture.

Posted by Monique | February 20, 2007 3:31 PM

All that cash doesn't seem to have done that much for Poetry magazine. It's less and less poetry, and more and more critical carping about the "problem" with poetry. Enh. I'm not renewing my subscription.

Posted by MvB | February 20, 2007 3:32 PM

Sadly, my only real knowledge of poetry involves guys from Nantucket and Austin.

Posted by monkey | February 20, 2007 3:33 PM

90% says who? Ask them if they've ever spent a single penny on poetry and you'll get a much different answer; more like 0.9%, I'm guessing. How many living people in the world today have earned a substantial part (half, say) of their income from poetry? Any? Is Rod McKuen still alive?

Posted by Fnarf | February 20, 2007 3:37 PM

Also shocked at the number - especially becuase, as a college student, I know for a fact our creative writing department has only about 10 majors that have actually focused on poetry. The other creative writers could care less about the art form.

Posted by dkstar | February 20, 2007 3:43 PM

don't even get me started.

Posted by Garbes | February 20, 2007 3:45 PM

So much depends upon a read newspaper.

Posted by Smarm | February 20, 2007 3:45 PM

Thank you, Fnarf. I'd forgotten about Rod Listen to the Warm McKuen.

That title still makes me laugh.

Posted by Brendan Kiley | February 20, 2007 3:50 PM

The piece in the NYer was really great. The $ part is, of course, old news (three years now, I think). What's interesting to me about it is that they're spending the money almost entirely on their own little pet projects that involve the kind of wanky populism that non-profit foundations love to ruffle their feathers about. I'm genuinely embarassed to say that I studied poetry at New College in San Francisco. The whole scene (from the populists to the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E fuck-offs is painfully sub-cannibalistic (think Wu's pigs in Deadwood). I mean, even the Poetry Foundation hates poets as evdienced by this quote from the story, which is why I stopped writing poems and went into "journalism":

"As Ethel Kaplan, a lawyer at a wealth-management firm and the chair of the board, put it, “Nobody wanted to sit back and read grant proposals—especially from poets.”

That said: read Eileen Myles, Ron Padgett, Ted Berrigan, Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, Henri Michaux, Harry Matthews and the Oulipo crew, Pierre Reverdy, Appolinaire et. al. if you wanna know how it's possible for poetry to not suck.

Posted by Noel Black | February 20, 2007 4:08 PM

Does blog-posted poetry dream of the cries of electrons sacrificed to sing it's tune? When an electronic tree falls on the Net, does anyone hear it?

Modern poetry doesn't have to kill trees to exist. It just IS.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 20, 2007 4:59 PM

I hate most poetry, but I love strict form.

Am I normal?

Posted by Soupytwist | February 20, 2007 5:03 PM


Posted by Will in Seattle | February 20, 2007 5:52 PM

Poetry is a dead language.

Posted by Jude Fawley | February 20, 2007 7:20 PM

At the bookstore in which I work, the poetry sells decently. Better than the philosophy section for instance.

Posted by King Rat | February 20, 2007 7:27 PM

Barr's a big freakin' hoser who hasn't read shit. And it's low modernism, not high modernism, that supposedly ruined art, Chris.

Posted by JME | February 20, 2007 7:46 PM

Polls are mostly bullshit anyways, but a poll about poetry is an attempt to inaccurately quantify the aether. I like Poetry the magazine now a lot better than I did a few years ago, if only because the prose helps to focus one's thinking about the poems in each issue themselves, even if the essays are talking about other poems. That said, I'm the kind of easily swayed dumbass when it comes to lit crit who tends to believe whoever is talking at the time, and so the wrong person maybe to judge. I don't know that Barr is wrong - his Republicanism has nothing to do with his aesthetic judgement (or doesn't HAVE to) - but starting his program of popularization with Children's and Humor poetry seems to be the straightest path to irrelevancy and what someone in the NYer piece called the tote-bag tendency. I do know with everything that I believe that Billy Collins is a complete fraud and someone at that mag needs to shoot down his hot-air balloon and soon. Wiman is a smart critic and so is Gioia, even if he is a goddamn Republican. There are plenty of poets around to convince anybody who picks them up that poetry is NOT "a dead language", and exposing 'regular folks' to such work is what the Poetry Foundation should be doing with all that cash (apart from helping poor kids learn to read).
Poets who are never boring: (living) Stephanie Brown, Adrienne Rich, Charles Wright, Paul Muldoon, Tomas Transtromer. (dead) Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Weldon Kees, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman - OK, sometimes Whitman is boring. But usually transcendent. Local: Howard Robertson, John Olson, Anna-Maria Hong, Bryan Miller. Read 'em.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | February 21, 2007 12:55 AM

Dr. Seuss and Beastie Boys. Science in everyday life, people.

Posted by The CHZA | February 21, 2007 3:47 AM

Americans value it, they just don't want to pay for it. Poetry is bought everyday anyway. Movies, music, books, and postcards. So poets have found that you can make money, but use your poetry in a different media, but also on the side keep it free, with spokenword night at a coffee house. Let the iniates be initiated to the masses without charge.
I walk by the Seahawks game in the stadium, I may not have paid to see the game, but I can hear and visualize it in my own way.

Posted by nucleus | February 21, 2007 9:09 AM

OK, correction: Poetry is not dead, but it is a DYING language. It may still be produced, but gone are the days when households were entertained by guys like Tennyson. Poetry is a niche, like Latin, that the public knows less and less about, and has less and less patience for with the glut of pop culture that demands zero attention. Sorry, I sound like a curmudgeon but its what things look like on the ground.

Posted by Jude Fawley | February 21, 2007 11:36 AM

At the University Village Starbucks on Tuesday, probably 400 people showed up to hear Ishmael Beah read from A Long Way Gone, his memoir of being a boy soldier in the Sierra Leone civil war.

There was seating for about 30. People were standing on the benches, crowded in every available aisle, standing five deep outside in the freezing cold, listening through cracks in the open windows. Employees cleared every movable display. Howard Schultz showed up. Two movable coffee carts were set up outside.

Yes, Starbucks did this same treatment with Mitch Ablom, easy-listening writer. And no, even Beah isn't poetry, but it's relevant: the writer has something to say, and Starbucks has figured out that people still care about relevant art. Most of all, that we don't necessarily need or even want to feel like we're taking a dose of castor oil.

Until poets escape the academy (where TS Eliot helped sequester them), poetry, for better or for worse, will remain ignored.

Posted by Bob Redmond | February 22, 2007 5:56 PM

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