Sunday, January 27, 2013

Poetry Gets A Bad Rap

Lost in the poetry of music at the Inaugural Parade - Kathleen Tyler Conklin

Several "Washington Post" writers have given poetry a bad rap in the last week.  One questioned whether Richard Blanco's poem "One Today" was even poetry.  Hank Stuever called it an "essay-like" poem and Alexandri Petri wonders whether poetry is obsolete.

Whew!  I'm pleased it got so much attention…but are they really paying attention? Was its  'poetriness' questioned because it didn't rhyme?  or because it was easily understood?  or because it didn't cause us to "keel over" as movies do according to Petri's column?

Petri claims we no longer need poetry and the playwright Gwydion Suilebhan declares "Poetry is dead." She says that is is blather, nonsense or gibberish. Take that poetry.  And as a final blow she adds "It's zombie poetry."

Well I beg to differ. I am ready to fight for the right of poetry to exist. It is alive and well and living in the hearts and minds of many non-zombie human beings. It is all around us in books, poetry readings (Natasha Tretheway, the poet laureate working and reading at the Library of Congress for one example), poetry workshops, writing groups, and yes even in rap and song lyrics.

It is on TV in the current PBS program "Shakespeare Uncovered" (yes, Shakespeare is a poet) and on radio thanks to Garrison Keillor. Bill Moyers does his part online.

It is all around us and still has power. Petri claims because it gave us the news, it had prestige in the old days. It isn't vital according to her because we have nothing so urgent like the wounds left by World Was I to express.

She asks, "What now is so urgent that it can be said only in poetry?"  My answer is---whatever has been urgent all these years is still urgent…love, death, war, suffering, joy, nature, connections, confusion, pain, cruelty, beauty, betrayal, loss, happiness.  In other words the human experience.

How better to express it than in poetry? Poetry has the power to focus our minds, express what we feel in distilled language, move our hearts, and to let us take a moment to breathe (as Blanco said in his poem)…breathe in the images of our country, our homes. our roots, our loves.

I thought it was a good poem and a good moment for our nation.

Poetry lovers unite.