Sunday, May 27, 2007


My latest "Third Way" has to do with something I sometimes allude to, as in the last paragraph of the prior post. I'm thinking of setting up something like a Poetry Book Club where, to subscribers, I suggest (perhaps every other month, perhaps every quarter depending on my time constraints) a book of contemporary poetry. Such book would arrive with a friendly cover letter from Moi sharing the Whys of my recommendation.

While poets are welcome to subscribe, the primary target audience for my Book Club isn't actually poets. It's people outside the poetry world.

One of the most distasteful discussions to me in the poetry world has to do with this binary set up by would-be avantists versus promoters of non-elliptical poetry (all poems are elliptical in some fashion but that's another story). To someone like me who's invested in making poetry part of people's everyday living, so to speak, versus something just (forcibly) studied or then addressed mostly by poem-makers, I detest how attempts to widen the audience for poetry becomes synonymous with bringing certain types of verse -- some have called them accessible -- to the forefront.

The fact of the matter is, it's precisely because poetry promoters bring "easy" poems to the general audience that many get turned off. Believe it as we would about juries, people: sometimes, people really aren't as stupid as we think them to be.

I know intelligent and cultured people who are curious about poetry -- and specifically contemporary poetry; what's going on currently with the art. But much of what is mostly accessible to them (and others who are not part of the poetry world) are not that satisfying. These are the kind of people who would be turned off by the verses served up as "accessible." Or not "turned off" -- that may be too harsh. More specific to the point I'm trying to make, they might enjoy the good/great poems from such accessible forms, but in the specific sense that such is not giving them a new or surprising or challenging experience, they're unlikely to *CONTINUE* reading poetry if that's all that they think is happening in contemporary poetry.

(It needs to be "challenging" because if it was just enjoyable, then that reading-the-poem experience would be peers with other such enjoyable experiences. And as peers, would be unlikely to compete well -- e.g., "Yo! Would you rather go to a movie or buy that Ted Kooser book?!" Not to pick on Ted, but as a former national poet laureate, I'm sure he can weather the sting from Lil Ol' Moi.)

So the people I would be targeting with Galatea's Poetry Book Club are those unfamiliar with contemporary poetry but are intelligent people, often without much time to spare which has honed their focus on whatever they're focusing on at the moment, and generally aren't interested in "easy" experiences because, in general, they're not into easy experiences.

All that I'm saying may be too abstract, so let me give examples. These, off the top of my head, are the poets whose works I would serve up to newbie poetry readers:

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
Arthur Sze
John Yau

There's a reason I hightlight the above three poets. Their works are not typically categorized as "easy" and yet, as a newbie reader, I didn't find them not accessible. When I first read these poets' works (at age 35, totally new to contemporary poetry), I didn't know I was reading poets whose writings are supposed to be more difficult than many other poets'. What I did bring to the experience of reading them was curiosity. During my period as a newbie reader of contemporary poetry, I read a lot of so-called accessible verse. I enjoyed some, but here's the point: none of them would have caused me to keep returning to read contemporary poetry. These three poets did.

I think it's people like me (or me when I was a newbie poetry reader) who aren't being addressed enough by enough poetry promoters. And, anecdotally, it's because such poetry promoters are often poets themselves who get trapped into the kind of thinking with which I began this post -- that to attract new readers to poetry, you gotta make it easy for them. To which I say, Horse-Patooty.

So, I'm still too busy to set up this book club idea, but I will. I present this idea out there, though, because I do hope others beat me to it.

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