Friday, January 1, 2010

Of Yaks and Modern Poetry

The Washington Post released its list of the best books of 2009 a few weekends back.

Memoir! Fiction! Arts and Letters! Business and Economics! Separate lists of American history and world history! Biography! Politics! Science! Sports!

And not a poetry book in sight. Not one.

The Post has apparently decided that poetry is a dead medium. Maybe it takes one to know one?

(I'm sorry. That was harsh. I know some very dear people who work at WP. And it has occurred to me lately that there are similarities between the ongoing gutting of journalism and the neglect/disappearance of poetry. Good poetry and good journalism are both things many people will not miss until they've disappeared completely, when the difference between the two arts and what's left in their place--Hallmark card doggerel and blogs loaded with truthiness--becomes starkly clear. Poets have never been able to make a living off their craft, yet poetry has survived, even if it's been marginalized. Journalists--who once could turn their skills into a decent living--are increasingly in the dinghy poets have drifted in all along.)

The New York Times, at least, included two poetry books on its 100 Notables list, those by Amy Gerstler and Louise Gluck. It's paltry, sure, but it's something--and the Times also included a lot of terrific short fiction collections, which frequently suffer similar neglect.

I'm sad to see my hometown paper ignoring poetry. I know they have their little poetry ghetto every week (which has recently changed form, allowing a poet to discuss one of his or her own works). I like Poet's Choice, but whenever I used to read the columns, my enjoyment was tinged with the sense of being treated to an explication of an obscure and mysterious art from a strange and distant land. As though the poem under review were a Himalayan basket designed for an obscure god to lay an egg in, or a Peruvian bowl made out of alpaca hoof.

It was this thought, along with a general musing about the insular nature of modern poetry, that inspired this poem a while back.

Happy new year to all!



1 comment:

molly said...