The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 05, 2007

Survivor: Oxford University

Ken Gordon of Quickmuse (we're doing an event with them--have you heard?) pointed me toward this crazy article in The Guardian about a reality television show in Abu Dhabi where poets are judged American Idol-styles:

"However, despite the format, this is a far cry from the karaoke contests we have grown used to in Britain. Instead of the familiar mix of R&B ballads and selections from the Broadway songbook, contestants from drawn from all the Arab nations recite their own poetry, composed in a traditional Bedouin style called Nabati that dates back to the fourth century. Even the judges are different: respected academics and poets who weigh the contestants use of metre and imagery with unfeigned sincerity, and none of the personalised slurs or gushing pronouncements of star quality one expects from Simon Cowell and his cohorts."

This is amazing for a lot of reasons, not least of which because it immediately made me think of how it could be adapted for American audiences. OK, yes, of course, there's the PBS way of doing things, which I'm sure would be great and well-handled and incredibly enlightening. Or, there's the network way of doing things. I came up with Survivor: Oxford University (and also Survivor: Iowa Writers' Workshop, although that may be far too close to reality too be funny).

Anyone else?



It's easy to poo poo Simon Cowell and American Idol, but the fact is that maybe it would take a "low-brow" reality show format to get irony-drenched or proudly non-literate American audiences interested in poetry. I don't know if it would help the country understand poems any better, but they'd sure tune in to see someone eat a live centipede in between stanzas.


For the record, I would totally watch Survivor: Iowa Writers' Workshop (The Real World: Iowa City could also work). Or how about salacious Behind the Music-style documentaries (i.e. Mina Loy: Behind the Verse)? Murder She Composed? A sitcom called "That's Czeslaw!"? The possibilities are endless...


In general, reality TV is simply appalling. It's loud, goes nowhere, scripted—even if we did have a show about 'America's Next Top Poet', we'd find a way to turn it into a screaming contest of nitwits from the middle of nowhere. Additionally, while some people might be gems waiting to be discovered, we'd have to suffer through plenty of duds to get to them. There is nothing worse then bad poetry—sorry, I'm wrong. Bad 'Goth' poetry... and you can bet your sweet bananas there would be plenty of that floating around in America's youth.


Totally true, AA, but there is that little subgenre of reality TV in which the contestants are up-and-comers in their field with, if not talent, then at least something like it. The contestants on Project Runway and Top Chef are already mostly working/building their reputations. Of course, "working in the field" is a trickier concept for poets than line cooks, but that still might be the way to go. Maybe new poets with no more than one collection out... Then, of course, they would be made to fight in a steel cage while drunk.


I think our dear "touchy tribe" has done perfectly well at publicly eviscerating one another. The problem is that the public simply doesn't care. "Step over the poet's intestines and keep walking, Timmy."

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