Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Poets, do you promote poetry-not-your-own?

Blogger Nic Sebastian writes: "Poets, do you promote poetry-not-your-own?

"Amy King asked this question on Twitter. She has just finished a marathon tweeting session on behalf of the Academy of American Poets, in which she spent many hours asking questions, promoting poets, poetry, poetry presses and poetry initiatives."

Do I promote poetry other than my own? Were I a human I would answer "yes" without thought or hesitation. After all, in addition to this blog I write critique, reviews and articles ranging from the anecdotal to the technical. I am the only one at our local open mic who has ever performed a contemporary poem authored by someone else. True, I've never blurbed but for certain poems, collections and poets I've been an unabashed cheerleader in everything other than uniform.

For better or worse, though, I'm a squirrel. Hungry hawks hovering overhead have taught us Grays to be circumspect. Let's look twice before we cross this street. Do I promote poetry other than my own? Note, as Nic did, that we aren't talking about specific poets, poems, presses or initiatives. We're talking about poetry in toto. Thus, the "not-your-own" that is central to Nic's discussion is more or less redundant in ours.

So, do I promote poetry?

Doesn't the word "promote" suggest that you are trying to expand beyond current participant levels? Doesn't "promote" suggest bringing new blood into the arena? Doesn't "promote" imply more than energizing the troops and preaching to the converted? If Wallmart has a promotion shouldn't it be aimed at more than their staff and existing customers? How about an enterprise that doesn't have customers yet? Would it make any sense if their promotions were targeted strictly at their employees?

So, do I promote poetry?

Do I really need to specify poetry consumption? With the current rate of overproduction?

So, do I promote poetry?

No. I may try but I'm just a squirrel chirping into the blathersphere.

Does anyone promote poetry these days?

Not effectively. Not in North America, at least. As with any guild, the League of Canadian Poets does a fairly good job of promoting poets to those with a modicum of interest. If anyone needs a demonstration of the difference between highlighting poets and poetry they need only watch the "Heart of a Poet" series. Blurber host Andrea Thompson does her best introducing the poets but, with a few exceptions, the poetry samples on display are bad.

How bad? Groundhog Day bad: if the public were watching we could expect six more decades of oblivion. As for attention to potential readers, never has disregard been so palpable.

Despite Christian Wiman's good intentions, the Poetry Foundation's focus is on a tiny fringe element of contemporary poetry. Both Wiman and the organization bear the scars of a losing battle against Content Regents shilling anti-aestheticism. The $200,000,000 Ruth Lilly grant insulates them against the public's concerns. The Poetry Foundation's one outreach is a remarkable idea: Poetry Out Loud, a contest to make videos of classic poem recitations. Unfortunately, their silent war with the pre-existing online community prevented them from enlisting aid, causing that initiative to suffer as the interactive Harriet blog did.

In many ways, the Academy of American Poets is the mirror image of the Poetry Foundation. With their learning resources and workshop, Poets.org is not held hostage to Content Regents. Unfortunately, their Poem-A-Day intiative suffers from inflexibility. Instead of a hodge-podge that pleases no one they could consider individual genres (e.g. Check one or more of: metrical, non-metrical, traditional, modern, contemporary, literary, popular, romance, drama, comedy, et cetera). If nothing else, the statistics might prove interesting.

To my knowledge, not one of these organizations polls the public for its opinion on defining issues. All are more interested in dictating taste than catering to it. Do we really need a degree in marketing strategy to spot the flaw here? Is it any wonder that there is no public outrage when government funding for the arts in general and poetry in particular is cut?

"Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people."

- Adrian Mitchell

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1 comment:

  1. Of course you're promoting poetry, you daft squirrel.


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