"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Who Reads Poetry?


Like many of you, I've been following Lance Phillips' interview blog Here Comes Everybody quite closely, and enjoying immensely what people have had to say.

One thing's bothering me, though. A lot of poets, when asked if they read much poetry, have responded, very matter-of-factly, "no." On one hand, I don't even know if I would ask this question, were I the interviewer, as I guess (and I guess wrongly) I have always assumed that of course poets read poetry! That's what made us want to be poets in the first place, no? Of course, I've heard of the young student in the undergrad writing workshop who doesn't want to read poetry because he or she is afraid it will influence his or her Very Important Work. And I've even heard established poets talk about avoiding contemporary poetry because they don't want to be influenced by the current "period style." But I just have a hard time believing that so many of our talented poets today don't pay attention to what their peers are doing, or don't pay attention to much poetry, past or present.

Am I hopelessly old-fashioned? Is it now fashionable to NOT read poetry? I know we're a solipsistic bunch, but we're also a bunch who routinely laments the lack of interest in poetry outside the poetry community. How can anyone expect the common folk to be interested in what we're doing if we're not even interested?

11 comments:

louise said...

I agree with you completely. I noticed this too and it seemed strange.

For me, whenever I stop reading poetry regularly I also start to develop a tone deaf ear. It's like I need to regular partake of the music and language of poetry or else my own writing becomes flat.

It's as strange to me as a musician saying they don't listen to music.

Reb said...

Yeah, that's probably the *one* thing I read in those interviews that actually pisses me off. I probably shouldn't care who does or doesn't read poetry, yet its difficult not to take a little offense when a poet says that.

I suppose I can almost buy the "why I avoid contemporary poetry" argument, but that also makes me suspect the person saying that is so weak-minded to be so easily influenced that he/she has to avoid it completely. Have we no will? I find it odd not to be at least curious what one's peers are up to, but perhaps that's because I'm a neb-shit and want to read all about what everyone is doing.

Nebbie Rebbie

Stuart Greenhouse said...

I've found it strange too. I remember Wallace Stevens, asked whether he thought Blake had influenced his work, responded "Wilhelm Blake? Yes, I've heard of him somewhere." Or something like that. He wasn't being truthful, of course. Maybe there's something about being a poet, and desiring to be seen as original unto oneself, that leads some to misrepresent themselves. I dunno, my answer would be yes but never enough, but what do I know? Nobody's asking me, so maybe there's something to the cool kid act.

Or maybe those who don't read just have more time on their hands to write with.

By the way, if you're wanting for food topics, howabout another 'C'? I'm stumped as to what to do with collard greens for a vegetarian (i.e., no pork). and: D, dumpoke chicken; E, escarole or epazote; F, flambe.

Victoria Chang said...

Gosh, it is strange, because everyone I know reads a ton of poetry...perhaps the sample size they have is just not representative?

brooke said...

this is fascinating because even i haven't read any non-required poetry in a long while. i think it gets so academic that eventually it is just another thing on the checklist. even to those who are suppposely into it. even to those who write it in an academic way. strange how this works.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if saying that one doesn't read poetry, or reads only a little bit of it, is a way of denying that one isn't really a poet-- that what one writes is something more, something better, than poetry. Like philosophy, or fiction. The edges have been plenty blurred for some time. So it's easier to claim one is "something else" in denying that one pays attention to what "one does." (?)

Kent

Anonymous said...

"...way of denying that one isn't really a poet"

Change that "isn't" to an "is".

Imn't in a negative mood lately, it seems.

Kent

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I find it kind of refresing when a poet admits that most poetry is kind of boring. I think Lisa Jarnot says that she'd rather read true crime books.

Admit it people, poetry is boring!

-Andrew "Not a Poet"

Tony said...

I guess I'd have to ask, Andrew, how much poetry have you read? Most folks who say poetry is boring either haven't read much, or have had it rammed down their throats by a really bad teacher. At least that's my experience.

If a poet, though, thinks poetry is boring, then why the hell write it? I happen to think Lisa Jarnot is a marvelous poet, and I see nothing wrong with true crime novels, if that's your thing, but what would compel an artist to create art that he or she thinks is, by definition, "boring"?

Musicians listen to music. Painters look at paintings. Actors and directors watch movies and plays. Poets--at least some of them--don't read poetry.

Maybe this is a sort of evasive post-avant pose. Maybe it's a cooler-than-thou stance that I can't adopt because I'm not really that cool.

Cool Poet: You actually READ poetry? Oh, that's so, er, early 20th century of you. How cute. I haven't read a poem in years. I don't even read my own--I just write 'em and send 'em out.

Me: Can I have a hug?

Michael said...

A poet who doesn't read poetry? That's bullshit. There's no such thing. Show me these people. I can't imagine that they write anything worth reading.

Whatever I read, I'm compelled to write. I haven't been reading much poetry *of late* but I have been reading a lot of short story collections. Because of this, I haven't been writing much poetry, but my mind is whirling in prose.

Whenever I read poetry, I want to write poetry. In fact, I just read *one* poem of Wallace Stevens today ("Dry Loaf") and it's given me the itch back. What a fantastic disease.

michael said...

lots of poets don't read poetry. some of them aren't even bad poets. what matters is the transformation of experience. i myself would wish that all those who aspire to write, learn as much about the past as they can. that includes history as well as literature. but that's just me. there are prodigies in math, in music, & i suppose prodigies in putting words together. however, unless you're a prodigy, there's probably a lot of technique you'll miss by not reading old poems. whether or not you can do without technique is a question i can't answer for you...

m.