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.

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