Friday, June 16, 2006


Since Archie’s most recent illness, our Italian greyhound has been given carte blanche by the vet to eat people food—as long as it is bland. Consequently, this week, my dogs and I have had markedly similar diets—excepting the caffeine of course.

Three days ago, my wife sent me off to the supermarket to stock up on fresh produce that we’ll probably never use and a variety of bland foods like bread, hamburger, cottage cheese, and chicken, which was purportedly for the dogs. When I first entered the supermarket, I found myself deeply perplexed. Even though I went to the closest store in a particular chain, the arrangement of the aisles was the opposite of what expected. The cheeses were to the right and the produce was to the left—quite unlike the layout to which I’m accustomed. Strange how quickly we become creatures of habit.

Anyhow, the first section I noticed when I entered the store was the book and magazine section. For a supermarket, this particular store has quite an impressive selection of reading materials. Of course, there wasn’t any poetry, but only a fool would expect that. More, there wasn’t much in the way of “mainstream” literary fiction. Instead, shelves and shelves of dark cherry-stained wood were lined with genre fiction: crime fiction, romances, westerns, science-fiction, horror, and African-American literature.

Why—other than those tacky Hallmark volumes whose covers heedlessly abuse floral prints and the occasional Maya Angelou collection or Garrison Keillor anthology—isn’t poetry so easily marketable? Sure, there’s “cowboy poetry,” which any CEO of any print and media conglomerate can understand, but aside from a few examples here and there, why is the development so different?

What happened?

I think, sometimes, that poetry would be much more widely read, and perhaps, much more enjoyable if we gave into those escapist impulses that give us westerns and spy thrillers. Clearly, the reading public has reasons for selecting such fare. There is, like it or not, a reason why Danielle Steel’s novels always end up being filmed.

Imagine what such poetry would look like. Imagine a poem with villains in black cowboy hats. Imagine a poem encrusted with ill-begotten diamonds and pearls. Imagine a poem that journeys to the edge of the universe against the logic of physics.


Yesterday, on the way back from procuring coffee from the supermarket whose layout is my flawed mental map of that particular chain, I heard an interview with Donald Hall—the new poet laureate. Of course, he had an opportunity to read several poems, the most striking of which was, to me, “Weeds and Peonies.” I adore that last line. Yet, in the interview, our new poet laureate said a few words about the composition of that poem that, quite frankly, disturbed me. By Mr. Hall’s own admission, the “you” is his late wife, Jane Kenyon. More, Mr. Hall claimed that he wrote the poem merely for therapeutic reasons.

I don’t know why this bothers me so much—after all, the poem is marvelous. I can’t deny that. But, nevertheless, I remain flabbergasted by the continued prevalence of that confessional mode.


Obviously, I’m missing something. And if you look at Hall’s poem, you’ll see what it is. Perhaps, you’ll see why so many people (and there are many) love poetry. Perhaps you’ll feel the marvelous kinesthesia of your mouth working to find meaning if you speak the poem aloud. Perhaps, like me, you’ll simply be delighted by peonies.


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