Is it possible that our current U.S. Poet Laureate is still promoting this simple-minded worldview:
“‘I detest elitism of any kind,’ [Kooser] says. ‘There’s been this assumption along with modernism that the reader should come halfway to the work. I frankly don’t believe readers should be expected to make an effort to learn something in order to understand a poem. I’ve never met readers like that, although I’m sure there are some, particularly on campuses. I’m not saying it’s not all right to write challenging poetry. But the sort of reader I’m interested in is the average person on the street.’”
Key here is that he doesn’t “believe readers should be expected to make an effort” as though “reading” is not a verb (i.e. an action one engages in). Should reading simply be a tube through which the message gets poured into the reader receptacle? And worse, Kooser pretends it’s okay to write challenging poetry through his insincere double negative qualifier, but really, that complex stuff isn’t accessible by the “average person on the street.”
This strain of anti-intellectualism has promoted the academic versus everyman divide for far too long now. What really is the point? I mean, everyone acknowledges that the world of art is far and wide, ranging from the complex to the cartoon. Many heralded artists have not had formal educations and vice versa. The art world doesn’t live by the code that one must have an education to produce difficult, worthwhile work. How is it that this nation’s Poet Laureate still sees the world of poetry in such a debased way? Simple verse for simple, non-academic minds. Academic verse for the “elite.” And so the mythology goes …
Charles Bernstein responded to this dumbing-down sometime ago:
“National Poetry Month is sponsored by the Academy of American Poets, an organization that uses its mainstream status to exclude from its promotional activities much of the formally innovative and “otherstream” poetries that form the inchoate heart of the art of poetry …
Oscar Wilde once wrote, ‘Only an auctioneer admires all schools of art.’ National Poetry month professes to an undifferentiated promotion for ‘all’ poetry, as if supporting all poetry, any more than supporting all politics, you could support any.
National Poetry Month is about making poetry safe for readers by promoting examples of the art form at its most bland and its most morally ‘positive.’ The message is: Poetry is good for you. But, unfortunately, promoting poetry as if it were an ‘easy listening’ station just reinforces the idea that poetry is culturally irrelevant and has done a disservice not only to poetry deemed too controversial or difficult to promote but also to the poetry it puts forward in this way. ‘Accessibility’ has become a kind of Moral Imperative based on the condescending notion that readers are intellectually challenged, and mustn’t be presented with anything but Safe Poetry. As if poetry will turn people off to poetry.”
Bernstein goes on to discuss the agenda of this call for “accessibility”: to sell books under the ruse of “good for you,” pat-on-the-back-you-exist kind of poetry. In this way, the possibilities of the poet as cultural worker, as a critical dissector of the world we create and inhabit are severely limited. One cannot produce affirmative flowery verse AND point out how culture might manipulate or push us towards specific beliefs. This limited poet cannot produce verse that reflects an existence unlike her readers either. If she is to affirm the masses, how can she divulge atypical details and unusual ways of seeing that digress from society-at-large?
Instead of saying that only simple poetry is for everyone, it would be nice if the “head poet” would, for a change, use some real marketing ploy and put a new spin on the sell. For instance, Hey! There are so many poetries available now that one’s been designed especially for you! Now get off your soft potato and clean out The Strand! Or your local bookstore ..
Of course, I’m just a simple-minded idealist too.
In other news & notes, this post touches on my nightmares regarding listserv etiquette.
And surpassing the “gay cowboy movie” label, this post has miraculously renewed my interest in seeing “Brokeback Mountian.”
Didi made a portrait of me. I look hot – yay!
I’m going stir crazy. And out into the rain now.
4 Responses to “Tired Old Wheel”
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is co-editing with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edited the anthology Bettering American Poetry 2015 and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.