Archive for April 17th, 2011

“Not poetry, but the idea of poetry”: Charles Bernstein disses National Poetry Month

Sunday, April 17th, 2011
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Bernstein has a counterproposal

Courtesy of David Sanders‘s weekly Poetry News in Review, another diss for National Poetry Month, this time from language poet Charles Bernstein, who points out that the whole bland endeavor “not poetry but the idea of poetry, and the idea of poetry too often has meant almost no poetry at all.”

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.

That’s just the beginning.  He notes that some of the sponsors who have backed the Academy of American Poets‘ National Poetry month are among the corporate chains that have driven small presses and independent bookstores out of business.  Then he goes on a tear:

“I also note this year that The New York Times is a major sponsor of National Poetry Month; but if the Times would take seriously the task of reviewing poetry books and readings, it would be doing a far greater service to poetry than advertising its support for National Poetry Month. The whole thing strikes me as analogous to cigarette makers sponsoring a free emphysema clinic.”

He suggests an anti-poetry month, with full-page ads:
.
Go ahead, don’t read any poetry.
You won’t be able to understand it anyway:
the best stuff is all over your head.

And there aren’t even any commercials to liven up the action.

Anyway, you’ll end up with a headache trying to figure out
what the poems are saying because they are saying
NOTHING.

Who needs that.

Better go to the movies.