April Will Be The Cruellest Month for Poetry…

With natch’ral poultry-month nearly upon us (the effects of which can be as dangerous as avian flue for the health of actual poetry) it is time to reactivate the vaccination against it — i.e. it is time to reread what to me is the best criticism of that kulchur-vulturing attempt by national “book”-chains and other capitalist consortia to get some cachet, cultural credulity and cash out of poetry. I am of course referring to Charles Bernstein’s essay Against National Poetry Month as Such which you can find in toto here. But I cannot refrain from quoting a couple excerpts to whet your appetite:

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Only an auctioneer admires all schools of art.” National Poetry month professes to an undifferentiated promotion for “all” poetry, as if supporting all poetry, any more than supporting all politics, you could support any.

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.

CB goes on to make very cogent arguments for the nefariousness of “poetry month.” You can read his arguments via the link above. But I do want to share the proposal for an anti-poetry month which closes the essay:

As an alternative to National Poetry Month, I propose that we have an International Anti-Poetry month. As part of the activities, all verse in public places will be covered over—from the Statue of Liberty to the friezes on many of our government buildings. Poetry will be removed from radio and TV (just as it is during the other eleven months of the year). Parents will be asked not to read Mother Goose and other rimes to their children but only … fiction. Religious institutions will have to forego reading verse passages from the liturgy and only prose translations of the Bible will recited, with hymns strictly banned. Ministers in the Black churches will be kindly requested to stop preaching. Cats will be closed for the month by order of the Anti-Poetry Commission. Poetry readings will be replaced by self-help lectures. Love letters will have to be written only in expository paragraphs. Baseball will have to start its spring training in May. No vocal music will be played on the radio or sung in the concert halls. Children will have to stop playing all slapping and counting and singing games and stick to board games and football.

As part of the campaign, the major daily newspapers will run full page ads with this text:

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

Who needs that.

Better go to the movies.

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4 Responses

  1. poet CAConrad says:

    Oh dear! It appears you have a fucking robot in your comment box, how do they manage to slip in?

    SO GLAD you posted this! Was glad too to read the entire essay.

    To be honest I hadn’t thought much about it, meaning National Poetry Month, only because all the festivities bore me. Never any poets I actually want to hear, read, or drink a beer with. Maybe I’m being mean, but it feels the very way I say.

    I very much appreciate the statement, “Free poetry is never free, nor is free verse without patterns.”

    Thanks for this,

  2. John Sakkis says:

    i’m with conrad…linking b.’s essay to the blog…thanks pierre…

  3. François says:

    And I am with Conrad and John. Thanks for the post, Pierre. Your post and Bernstein’s essay were linked yesterday.


  4. Dan Wilcox says:

    > Press Release — for immediate release < In Albany, Every Day is Poetry Month
    Although the Academy of American Poets (www.poets.org) has declared April as National Poetry month, every poet in Albany knows that “In Albany, Every Day is Poetry Month”. There are more poets-per-capita in Albany than in any other North American city of comparable size, states Albany poet & photographer, Dan Wilcox. “It’s all part of the ghettoization of our experience: Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Poetry Month, these should be experienced year-round, not just when it’s convenient for the czars of culture,” he explains. Wilcox cites the ongoing poetry readings and open mics in the Albany area throughout the year as another reason to ignore such spurious designations. He hosts an open mic at the Lark St. Bookshop on the third Thursday of every month (the next is April 20) & will refer you to http://www.albanypoets.com for a full schedule of the month’s readings, that you won’t find listed by the Academy of American Poets.
    For further information about the Poetry Motel Foundation & the Albany poetry scene contact Dan Wilcox at 518-482-0262; dwlcx@earthlink.net.

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