The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 14, 2008

Guess Who Hates National Poetry Month?

Well, it’s probably not much of a guessing situation, since I think most of you already knew anyway. But regardless, here you go: Bloggers hate National Poetry Month. Poets hate National Poetry Month. I’m even going to go out on a limb and suggest that there are probably some Joyce Kilmer-reading 6th graders who are hating on National Poetry Month right this very minute.

I read so much commentary about what a bad thing NPM is that I sort of felt like I needed to bring up the fact that I have, actually, listened to and considered these arguments against it. I suspect that most people who have read Charles Bernstein’s essay agree with it at least in part—he’s a funny and wise writer, and his argument probably makes a lot of sense if you’re living in a major city, especially one that offers poetry readings most nights of the week. From Bernstein's essay:

As part of the spring ritual of National Poetry Month, poets are symbolically dragged into the public square in order to be humiliated with the claim that their product has not achieved sufficient market penetration and must be revived by the Artificial Resuscitation Foundation (ARF) lest the art form collapse from its own incompetence, irrelevance, and as a result of the general disinterest among the broad masses of the American People.

The motto of ARF's National Poetry Month is: ‘Poetry's not so bad, really.’

I don’t mean to say that you have to live in a big city to be able to turn your nose up at the idea of a month devoted to poetry. I am pretty sure that if you’re a person who spends a lot of time writing poetry, or reading poetry, or hanging out with poets, then the idea of National Poetry Month sounds stupid, whether you live in Terra Haute or San Francisco. But let’s be honest: to takes a lot more effort to be a full-time poetry fan if you are also a full-time resident of a city lacking a significant university population or growth industry.

And this is why I am a fan of National Poetry Month.

When I was in high school in Saginaw, MI--which, for the record, was one of those cities lacking in the significant university population and growth industries--I considered myself a die-hard poetry fan. I went to an extremely nerdy high school, where we did things like “journal” for an hour each day and get bused hours to tiny art museums to sit within an installation of knitted trees and write poems about it. (I swear I am not making this up. I also once went to a summer camp where we had to do the Macarena like the wetlands. This is what passes for arts education in the Midwest.) Sure, I think everyone in the class knew what we were doing was ridiculous. And yet at the same time, we all appreciated the effort—I mean, I wrote poems about those trees. I’d bet money those journals are still sitting at my parents' house somewhere.

So after all that energy expended toward “everyday” poetry, it was pretty exciting to have Cornelius Eady come to speak at the local community college one April. It was so easy—just sit and listen! I still remember it pretty well. He wore red Converse with his suit—pretty much the height of fashion to us high school poets—and I still have my signed copy of You Don’t Miss Your Water.

Which makes me think. If NPM did that for me, I bet there are more people benefiting from it, at least in tiny way. Just think about it. There’s got to be some long-suffering arts reporter sitting at a newspaper desk in Oklahoma and thanking his lucky stars for National Poetry Month, because it means he has an excuse to run an AP feature on a poet.   

And I like to picture to look of glee on librarians' faces when they realize that there’s extra money in April for all the new poetry books they’ve been dying to read.

So there. Poetry month: pretty freaking great. I appreciate that there are multiple points of view on the subject—actually, I’m thrilled that there are, and not just because I get an extra post out of it—and I’m even sympathetic to the arguments against. But you can stop telling me about Bernstein: I’m here staking my position as firmly PRO. To summarize another poetry blogger (who I can’t link to here directly because of his habit of posting unseemly videos), even if you live and breathe poetry, April just means more readings and discounts on poetry collections. And who can hate on that?


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Ryan Chapman

I think you're right that NPM is a much bigger deal for kids and students than it is for adults, at which point we can safely debate its uses.

But if you're that one kid who loves poetry in your town and your friends are into other things, NPM programming at bookstores and libraries is a necessary, perhaps needed outlet.

fred ceely

Honestly, I never had a judgmental thought about NPM.

I came to poetry very recently and by a strange route: The Norton Anthology of Modern War. I read the WWI poets and found myself writing technical notes in the margins. Then I started reading and writing poetry enthusiastically. Just lucky, I guess.

Frances Evangelista

Well, no one could hate that. But so many bibliobloggers read fiction exclusively. That intimidation factor. The adults just need to do what we ask the wee folks in our lives to do every day - suck it up and try something new. You might just like it. As the great poet, Dr. Seuss, knew so well, and voiced through the amiable tempter, Sam-I-Am.

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