I’m so behind on most things right now I’m actually writing this from the future trying to get caught up. No, not really because then I wouldn’t have to say, has anyone read the June 14th New York Times Magazine article by William Logan Poetry: Who Needs It? If I were writing from the future, today would be June 15th not June 30th.
It is not a wholly satisfying article, more fluff piece than anything. But it is amusing. For example:
The big magazines and even the newspapers began declining about the time they stopped printing poetry. (I know, I know — I’ve put the cause before the horse.) On the other hand, perhaps Congress started to decline when the office of poet laureate was created.
Logan comments that it is not a disaster that poetry is not popular, after all we don’t expect everyone to love the ballet. Poetry, he says, is “a major art with a minor audience” and that’s ok because
There are still those odd sorts, no doubt disturbed, and unsocial, and torturers of cats, who love poetry nevertheless. They come in ones or twos to the difficult monologues of Browning, or the shadowy quatrains of Emily Dickinson, or the awful but cheerful poems of Elizabeth Bishop, finding something there not in the novel or the pop song.
I laughed at this. I might be an odd sort though I suspect I’m not that odd. Of course I could be wrong. One of my coworkers is always telling me what a nerd I am. I am not disturbed nor do I torture cats (I could probably get Waldo and Dickens to vouch for me but they are cats so it could be risky because you just never know with them). Unsocial? Well, maybe a little. But not in a creepy serial killer or Unabomber kind of way. More like a leave-me-alone-I’m-reading unsocial, which to some people who are confirmed non-readers might actually fall in with the creepy serial killer or Unabomber unsocial sort. She was so quiet, kept to herself, always had her nose in a book, I never would have thought she would … fill in the blank. Yeah, just wait until I go off the deep end.
But I digress. Logan has a blue-sky proposal:
teach America’s kids to read by making them read poetry. Shakespeare and Pope and Milton by the fifth grade; in high school, Dante and Catullus in the original. By graduation, they would know Anne Carson and Derek Walcott by heart. A child taught to parse a sentence by Dickinson would have no trouble understanding Donald H. Rumsfeld’s known knowns and unknown unknowns.
Heh. Revealed! The real reason why Logan’s is a blue-sky proposal: the government doesn’t want us to be able to understand what they are saying. Or not saying as the case may be. I read poetry Mr. Rumsfeld, I saw through your verbal smokescreen from the start! If only that were the case with a large portion of America many terrible things might have been avoided.
Though I agree wholeheartedly with William Carlos Williams:
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
I also agree with Logan:
You can live a full life without knowing a scrap of poetry, just as you can live a full life without ever seeing a Picasso or ‘The Cherry Orchard.’ Most people surround themselves with art of some sort, whether it’s by Amy Winehouse or Richard Avedon. Even the daubs on the refrigerator by the toddler artist have their place. Language gainfully employed has its place. Poetry will never have the audience of ‘Game of Thrones’ — that is what television can do. Poetry is what language alone can do.
Prose is good, don’t get me wrong. Most of what I read is prose. But poetry, it is something I can’t do without. It does things even the most poetic prose can never do. Now if you will excuse me, I think I shall go be unsocial and read a poem or two.