Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium :
poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poets, poetry, and the po-biz
Updated: 6/26/08; 9:18:24 PM.



AIM: poemando




Click to see the XML version of this web page.

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

I've never been concerned with the absolute numbers of people who read poems. It's obvious, that with a third of a billion native English speakers and many more who speak English as a second language, Milton has a audience orders of magnitude bigger now than when he lived. What matters is that readers, serious readers who buy enough of the likes of Steven Hawking, Douglas Hofstadter, Richard Wright, Philip Roth, A. S. Byatt, Stephen Jay Gould, Chinua Achebe, Salmon Rushdie, Umberto Eco, and Steven Pinker to make them bestsellers, do not buy or read contemporary poetry in English. That is an unprecedented situation.

Whatever the ultimate cause of that may be, the proximate cause is easy find. When an educated man or woman walks into a bookstore thinking it would be nice to know something more about evolution, there are many serious books from which to choose, books whose authors have taken great pains in writing and organizing so that a general reader can follow the evidence and arguments. The same is true in physics, philosophy, and even mathematics. That they aren't the books specialists in their fields write for each other is irrelevant: poetry has never been written for specialists.

Closer to home, when that same educated man or woman wants to read a novel or a short story, one can be sure that the authors of nearly every book in the store will have tried to write an opening that excites the reader's interest and will have worked hard to make sure that the remainder of the story keeps that interest through clear writing and strong characters or plot or both.

In bitter contrast, that same reader pulling a book of contemporary poetry from the shelves is not unlikely to be confronted with something like this beginning:

Look at this picture then describe it
as areas of the body at which
whatever is sensed is vibration
during singing, tell me

do you feel it do you
feel it here or here and now
what does it feel like does it
feel real good to you?

(first two stanzas of Garret Kalleberg's "From a Psychological Atlas")

or this one:

Murderous little world once our objects had gazes. Our lives

Were fragile, the wind

Could dash them away. Here lies the refugee breather

Who drank a bowl of elsewhere.

(all of Anne Carson's "EPITAPH: ZION")

Not every time. But whatever the merits of those particular poems or poets, do you think that educated, interested reader will be encouraged to look further on the poetry shelves? Or will it be just another reminder that poetry is unfathomable and dull?

7:34:35 PM    comment: use html tags for formatting []  trackback []

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

2008 Michael Snider.

Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website.

January 2005
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          
Dec   Feb


Mar 2008
Feb 2008
Jan 2008
Dec 2007
Nov 2007
Oct 2007
Sep 2007
Aug 2007
Jul 2007
Jun 2007 (empty)
May 2007
Apr 2007
Mar 2007
Feb 2007
Jan 2007 (empty)
Dec 2006 (empty)
Nov 2006 (empty)
Oct 2006
Sep 2006 (empty)
Aug 2006
Jul 2006
Jun 2006
May 2006
Apr 2006
Mar 2006
Feb 2006
Jan 2006
Dec 2005
Nov 2005
Oct 2005
Sep 2005
Aug 2005
Jul 2005
Jun 2005
May 2005
Apr 2005
Mar 2005
Feb 2005
Jan 2005
Dec 2004
Nov 2004
Oct 2004
Sep 2004
Aug 2004
Jul 2004
Jun 2004
May 2004
Apr 2004
Mar 2004
Feb 2004
Jan 2004
Dec 2003
Nov 2003
Oct 2003
Sep 2003
Aug 2003
Jul 2003
Jun 2003
May 2003
Apr 2003
Mar 2003
Feb 2003
Jan 2003
Dec 2002
Nov 2002
Oct 2002
Sep 2002