Tuesday, September 16, 2008

swimming in a fishbowl, year after year

So I have poetry depression.

I need poetry Zoloft, I guess.

Instead of asking the cleeshayed and hackneyed "does anyone care about poetry?" crap, I've got a much more fundamental question:

Can you name 10 people whom you know personally (that is, in real life) and see on more than a weekly basis who have read a poem for pleasure in the last year?

Can you name five who know of at least one, living, contemporary, under-fifty, definately-not-Maya-Angelou-or-Billy-Collins poet?

Can you name two who have read a book of poetry? One?

I can't. Sure I can think of a bunch of poets I know who can do all this but I never see them. And hell, they don't count anyway. That's like being surprised when football players watch football games. Duh.

I don't know personally a single non-poet who enjoys poetry (or, rather, enjoys poetry that's not mine -- tee hee). Where are the poetry fans? Where are the crazed, helmet wearing, belly painting, tailgating poetry fans?

I would recommend we derail this pobiz of teaching people how to be poets and go back to writing poetry for the people but the sound of one hand clapping gets old.

And I'm already wearing the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

I'm thinking more on the serial poetry bit. How does a scandalous, drug-addled, tim dorsey/carl hiassen-worthy poetry romp sound? Hm?


Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, this is something I've always wondered. I mean, loads of people read novels without feeling the need to sit down and write one and yet, like you it seems, I've never known anyone to buy a book of poems for pleasure who wasn't a poet of some sort.

I'm a poet and I've never bought a poetry magazine for pleasure. Not one. In my life. Ever. It's always been for research. And I'm getting almost as bad with the novels.

G. M. Palmer said...

Jim --


I mean, I know I think it's because of the lack of quality writing in American poetry -- but why don't you grab a book for pleasure?

I think that's what I'm trying to do with the reviews here (I really need to finish my Spera review) but I doubt many non-poets read the site.

I may have to make a correction, though. Everyone I know has read Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. What's the grown-up equivalent? Can't there be one?

And I have to push Gabriel Spera. Buy his book. It's a great and enjoyable read.

Jim Murdoch said...

There's no mystery in the answer: a) I don't frequent the kind of places where you can find new poetry books, b) when I do run across them 99% of the time I scan a few pages and I'm ready to fall asleep - it's not that the poetry isn't good (half the time though I can't tell) but most of the time they're not writing poetry about the kinds of things that interest me, c) with a few exceptions I like poems and not poets, and d) I have a limited budget for books and I invariably buy used books.

I would love to find a poet that excites me. Probably the last poet like that was Brautigan but everything he writes excites me.

I sometimes feel a bit guilty being a poet who really doesn't like poetry. But I guess it's a bit like finding out some guy is gay and assuming that he wants to have sex with every male that crosses his path. I look at every scrap of poetry that I come across but I engage with very little of it. This saddens me. I could say I've got high standards but it's nothing as grandiose as that – I'm just a fussy bugger who's never happy.

G. M. Palmer said...

But you don't feel this way about novels or movies or music, no?

I think the problem is not with you.

Allen Taylor said...

G.M. thanks for commenting on my blog.

I'm with Jim on this one. I do buy books and journals (more books than journals) for pleasure, but the budget can only handle so much. I think this is true for a lot of people. If you only have $50 to spend on books then you want to see that $50 go as far as it'll go. Poetry is not the highest priority for most people. They may like it, but they won't spend their money on it because Suze Orman is a more practical purchase that promises a return on investment. But I hate to speculate generally. I'm sure everyone has their own reasons for not buying or reading poetry. Some would say they don't understand it. I'm sure it's true.

G. M. Palmer said...

Allen --

You're right. Poetry's not a priority for people the way that, say, Harry Potter is, because it sucks and they know it.

In the last six months I've bought a dozen books or so. Three of them have been poetry books. If I thought the average book of poetry would be as entertaining and valuable as the average novel, I'm sure I'd buy more.

But we know it isn't so. How terrible.


Ed Baker said...

am reading


now Martinique

and am really "digging" intro to Doveglion (Villa) by Francia..

cheers, Eb

pee est

"the secret of life consists in being always
and never serious." (Blyth)

I'm in it
for the poetry

racketmensch said...

If I may;
first, I personally cannot read/understand poetry without being told by human or annotation what I'm supposed to be seeing. Without help, I might as well be reading a rock wall. I don't think it's a lack of intelligence or knowledge; I would guess it's something like riding a unicycle - quite difficult and without obvious benefit beyond the skill itself. I have noticed that I use a lot (too much) of metaphor in my own writing (blogging), which is probably just a rookie writing error, so I think I have the capacity to read poetry, but lack something crucial (training, persistence, imagination - I dunno).

secondly - I'm somewhat of a hermit, and most of my family is either non-literate or non-communicative, but I can only recall one person in my adult life that spoke of an interest in poetry and I don't how extensive her interest was. For most Americans it's teevee, movies and popular music, which is a large part of why I'm the aforementioned hermit. I'm to the point where the noise has died down enough for me to receive the signal, but I still don't know how to process it.

Which brings me to my third point. Poetry should probably not be taught to most kids. It almost seems like it's designed to turn them off. The esoteric seems like gibberish and the accessible is either trite (e.g. rock lyrics) or doggerel. I think that
Seuss and Silverstein are popular because they were illustrated, which helps focus the attention on a sufficiently small piece of the universe for the imagination to work with. See also greeting cards. I think this may be key to popularizing it. Good poetry stands alone, but most people need help with it. There are also a lot of graphic artists (and musicians) who are also not making any money, so it shouldn't be hard to find collaboration if the poet isn't too concerned about purity.

I'm going to have to stick to short non-fiction myself. I have a lot of ideas, but none are original, I'm afraid, Anecdote; I recently got a phone call from a girl I went to high-school with that still has some of my poems, which I mercifully don't remember, that I had given her. She asked me why I quit writing, and I told her that when I found out there were four billion people in the world I came to doubt my uniqueness. Sincere good wishes for your own work, however.

Rachel Fox said...

I know quite a lot of people who read poetry for pleasure (at least sometimes) and some of them are not even poets!

Maybe you all need new friends...and leave Maya Angelou alone...she may have gone a bit off the boil but she has written some good poems in her time.