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  Hank Stuever called it an "essay-like" poem and Alexandri Petri wonders whether poetry is obsolete.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.


  1. I completely agree. It was a good poem, and a good moment for our nation. As to the critics you mention, none of them are without poetry in their lives, and if they don't recognize it, they need to wake up, and as Blanko says, name it.

    1. Nicely put...wake up to the poetry in your life.

  2. Claire, until we meet each other soon through our mutual friend H. I'll simply say that your thoughts echo mine -- or rather, mine, yours! We NEED every ounce of poetry or real life is unexpressed. How sterile and TWEETED our existence would be without it.
    Diane A.

    1. Hi Diane,
      Looking forward to meeting you.
      Poetry and all forms of art enrich our lives and make them livable.
      I say bring it on!

  3. Claire,

    Thanks for your eloquent defense of poetry. What's wrong with these ignoramuses at the Post?
    I really liked Richard Blanco's poem for the inauguration - I liked it even more when I read it - the Post finally published it on Saturday after receiving letters to the editor protesting the Post's ignoring it.

    Calvin M.

    1. Right on's encouraging to see that people are writing letters and the Post is responding.
      I read it online almost immediately.

  4. Haven't they ever heard of poetry slams? These things are very popular in and around colleges and universities.

  5. Poetry seems to be a natural form of expression...and certainly is a vital one on College you can attest to Mike.

  6. The once was a lassie named Claire
    Who read 'poetry is so yesteryear'
    Well Claire rightfully stated
    Poetry's much underrated
    And to this I stand with her and cheer!

    1. There once was a fellow named Marky
      Who never would think to be snarky
      He tempered his rhymes
      For much gentler times
      For him just a walk in the park.