Poetry for the People


Because I enjoy poetic prose and well-executed poems, I subscribe to “Poetry” magazine. Each issue contains about thirty poems and the back section includes three literary commentaries. I usually read all the poems. 

I don’t know what to make of the commentaries so I typically skim over them, looking for nuggets. One of them caught my eye with “tempered by the dailiness of the life,” and, because I love new words, I had to read it all. 

That was fine so I went on to the next commentator, who had written a review of a new poetry collection by Michael Robbins, called Alien vs. Predator. I didn’t know any better. 

Mr. Robbins writes the most unpoetic stuff about unpleasant things I try not to think about, using coarse language I’d rather not read. That’s fine, too, for people who think it’s funny or creative enough to fill their heads with and want to buy his book. Land of the Free and all that. 

The reviewer, though, made me mad enough to spit. She’s a pro, no doubt, and a master wordsmith worthy of the magazine editor’s acclaim. But that she had such glowing admiration of Robbins’ technique, saying he “brings talent to the toilet” and “we melt with admiration” of his “whizzing wordplay,” coerced me into writing about poetry again.

She gives this acclaim for the poet after having just professed, “For many people, admitting to a fondness for poetry is like admitting to a fondness for a mechanized floral armchair: it’s too pretty, and anyway, they don’t get how it works.” She seems to imply Robbins’ coarseness and commercialism is the answer, at least to the pretty problem.

I understand (I think) where she’s coming from but I must vehemently disagree.

I think ordinary people have lost their fondness of poetry because the art lost them; it has surrounded itself with obscure intellectual dust and the smell of something fetid in Denmark. Academics have touted writing because it fits a form or is clever. The People have coughed it up and spit it out and declined to repeat.

Just let me assume that you are an ordinary person who has lost her fondness for poetry. Would you be more apt to pick up and read a poem titled “One Hundred Leaves,” or one called “Pissing in One Hand”?

I’m not suggesting crass subjects cannot be addressed poetically, although it is not my preferred reading. Poems are effective tools for everything from war protest to advocacy for school reform to seducing a woman. Isn’t the whole point of a poem to suggest something without actually saying it?

The grass is green. That’s prose. The spring morn swept over the verdant lawn. That’s poetic. The dog pissed on the grass. That’s pathetic.

I believe God inspires real poetry for the benefit of ordinary man and I refuse to cower before intellectual snobbery to call something poetic when it’s only clever word jiggling. O clever man, bereft and distraught, take your poetry back: buy a book!

May I suggest House of Light by Mary Oliver, Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert or Time and the Tilting Earth by Miller Williams?

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About janets123

Children's writer, newspaper columnist, essayist, poet, storyteller
This entry was posted in Short Takes on Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Poetry for the People

  1. And that is telling it like it is. My sentiments, exactly!!!

  2. Samuel Mandel says:

    You’re an idiot. Here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/24/books/alien-vs-predator-a-book-of-poetry-by-michael-robbins.html?_r=0

    Also, Robbins’s “commercialism”? The guy’s entire work is a critique of capitalism, for Christ’s sake.

    • janets123 says:

      You are right about one thing, Samuel–“commercialism” is not the best word. I was referring to Robbin’s liberal use of brand names, similar to Dali’s. I would not deign to consider poems about drinking diarrhea or ED in pets to be critique of capitalism, though. Thanks for stirring things up!

  3. Samuel Mandel says:

    Also, the quote from Poetry magazine that appears on the back of Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems? Michael Robbins wrote that review. Your narrowminded, proscriptive conception of what poetry can be prevents you from seeing that “coarseness” is far from the only attribute of his poetry. God, people like you are—half-educated, full of naive prejudice, unfamiliar with the breadth of the tradition—are worse than people who don’t read poetry at all.

  4. maragen says:

    After reading all that its kinda scarey to step in, but … my husband writes poetry. I love the poems he writes for me on holidays and birthdays. I feel so blessed to be loved by a guy who can say it like he does.

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