The Price of Poetry

Waking up early at the Luxembourg Embassy in D.C. (more on that maybe in the next post) I walk out onto Mass Ave to find a breakfast spot, hang a right after Gandhi’s statue & come to an excellent Belgian Bon Pain joint — organic everything, so soft boiled egg, various breads, etc. Across the street I espy a bookshop & stroll over once “restauré.”  One window displays all war books from the Battle of the Bulge to Afghanistan — well, less than a century of murder & mayhem (thought of this later as I walked back, passing the Cincinatti Society plaque celebrating the old Roman hero Cincinattus who after leading the Roman armies to military victory went back to leading his plow on his farm — which should be the fate or atonement of all generals who do not die with/instead of their cannon fodder.)

The second window held an array of used books signed by their authors, with prominent price tag attached. It didn’t come as a surprise that Robert Kennedy’s book To Seek A New World would fetch the highest prize — $600.  Jon Le Carré was a steal at $ 65, as was Jimmy Carter at $ 75 and Rushdie’s Satanic Verses at $85 — if you were interested. The surprise came at the bottom right hand corner where a copy of Robert Duncan’s Bending the Bow was offered for $150! An odd sort of vindication for poetry, though I have no clue why in D.C. close to DuPont Circle, the poetry of RD should fetch a higher price than the prose of Rushdie. Or maybe it is not a matter of poetry but just a question of availability or “demand & supply,” as they say — & Rushdie signed copies might be legion while RD’s signature is rare?
Idly musing about the price of poetry I walked back to the Lux Am, passing statues of liberators & the like, & not wanting to pass so well-nourished by a gaunt bronze Gandhi, I went down P street — came to the memorial statue of the Ukrainian bard Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), poet and fighter for independence as the set-in-stone text has it. The quatrain inscribed on the accompanying slab was less than momentous — as far as the poetry of the thing was concerned. But then, who knows, so much can get lost in translation, and if he died in battle fighting for independence in his late forties, well that would be another way of looking at the price of poetry, good or bad.
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Comment on “The Price of Poetry”

  1. Nice one, shadow included though I suspect history clearly demonstrates that there will always be one general left standing. As stated many times, I want that general to be mine and I want him “over there.” I sleep late these days and I fear cannons, with or without fodder, would awaken me should my general end up behind or as part of a plough. On a more serious note, I can see Jimmy Carter being worth the money as a home builder but hardly as an author, Rushdie either for that matter. I rather doubt he is much of a carpenter either. As you say, supply and demand. It was ever thus and as Cuba, Russia, China et al have shown, it will forever be. Mind you, my signature is pretty rare and I’m not worth a damn!

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