The cruelest month: Robert Pinsky on “National Poetry Month”


Cheese, tires, and poetry

It’s National Poetry Month, and I didn’t even send cards out this year.  Imagine.

I missed Robert Pinsky, too, thanks to some calendar confusion.  He spoke at Bay School of San Francisco on Thursday, March 31 — and though he was one of my nicest contributors for An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz, we’d never actually met face to face.

So it was nice to get the former U.S. poet laureate vicariously, at least, on the Farrar, Straus & Giroux Poetry Blog.  Here he is on National Poetry Month:

I confess that personally I feel maybe it has—as the expression used to go—gotten old. Somebody told me that it is also National Cheese Month and National Tire Month.

We need to remember that the art is large and fundamental—not a mere product. As long as that’s the main idea, there’s no harm in joining cheese and tires.

"One of these things is not like the other..."

The problem is, the descent didn’t stop at cheese and tires.I spent several unfortunate hours at the DMV today, and learned from the rolling banner that it’s also Distracted Driver Awareness Month.  Try making a product of that!  “April is the cruelest month,” as T.S. Eliot observed … though I don’t think he had cheese and tires on his mind.

I’ve always had some reservations about the marketing of poetry, precisely because poetry itself is supposed to be a counterbalance towards society’s steady slope towards advertising, public relations values, and the sound bite. Marketing is to poetry what fast food is to a several course repast (with vodka) in a top-notch restaurant.  The feeling one gets from a very fine poem — “Yes, that’s it — that’s it exactly“; inhabiting the poem, rather than simply reading it — is not the take-away from a snappy slogan on a subway poster, whether it’s from e.e. cummings or The Borgias.

I know some days ago I promised some outtakes from the  Zbigniew Herbert evening at NYC’s Poets House … and it’s coming, it’s coming.  Just give me a moment to come up for air.


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