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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pinned and Wriggling

Have you seen the poster for this year's National Poetry Month? I found out about it by visiting harriet, The Poetry Foundation blog. Daisy Fried wrote a terrific post about this new poster, and what choosing it says about the state of poetry in America today, or at least perhaps a new trend in how poetry is to be appreciated. Calling the poster "startling, elegant . . . a departure," she explains how posters of the past have presented "scrupulously inclusive" snapshots of poets and/or situations in which the images detracted from the words meant to be celebrated. Also, she states, all of the previous posters featured stink of "Uplifting Messages of Poetical  - Educational Opportunity for the Benighted" (go, Daisy!).  In my experience, I looked forward to receiving my annual poster, but yep, each year's poster bugged me in some minor or major way. My favorite by far (before this year's) was the 2006 collage of poems by the famous. Each morning I would get up and, on the way to the bathroom (the poster was and still is tacked to our bathroom door) say to myself: "Body my house my horse my hound." What better way to start the day? Also, in this poster the WORDS of poetry seemed to be what mattered most (as they should). But last year's poster!? Here we have these humongous hands, reaching out for what? The words "National Poetry Month." Are you joking? Meanwhile, you need a magnifying glass to decipher Jay Wright's beautiful poem in the lower left hand corner. And that's just it! Think of the message we're sending! The poem is in a freaking MOUSE HOLE. Why should the Academy be so quick to put poetry down in the sewer pipes? I mean, how are we really going to turn kids onto poetry if they see it isn't even worthy of being written in a readable font!? Listen, I was one of those kids in high school--very skeptical of poetry. Didn't think I would like it, no thanks and no way. But then I read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. After that, nothing was quite the same. 

Thanks to Paul Sahre and the Academy for entertaining the idea that perhaps poetry, like laughter, can be infectious, can be written or memorized just for the love of it, that someone could be so excited and enthralled by a poem that they just might write it on a fogged up window. 


seanag said...

What I really like about both this post and the National Poetry Month poster is the call to authenticity, and the sense that the only way that poetry will flourish is if it actually means something to someone. It makes me feel liberated in some way, as if my only obligation is to seek out poetry that really speaks to me in some way, not just to dutifully try to parse what I don't really understand.

Thanks, Martha.

Martha Silano said...

Hey, you're welcome. I am a true believer in seeking out the poems that speak to us. And trying hard to find poems that speak to my students, cuz hey, they're our country's future (!). I felt so left out in my college English classes b/c I was all about reciting Howl on the subway, and there was my prof droning on about Milton. Those old white guys were SO dead. I try to keep that in mind now when I'm teaching poetry; they want poems with rhythm, with the words they use--they want spoken word. I try to mix it up that way, and also sneak in a little Shakespeare or Keats where I can.

seanag said...

Yeah, I don't think it just has to be contemporary spoken word style to grab people--your T.S. Eliot conversion is a case in point.

Martha Silano said...

I learned from my high school teachers how to snag kids: give them some stuff they can relate to, and then slip in the Dickinson. It worked for me, as did being escorted to see Robert Bly back in the Vietnam era. He rocked!