Poetry is too often a victim of snobophobia’s cold shoulder. Snobophobia , as created and defined by me, is a fear of all things snobbish. This is not a big deal in itself, but it’s a slippery slope that leads to snobophobes fearing all things associated (whether regularly or inconsistently) with snobs. Common snobophobe statements include:
Poetry is emotional drivel.
Poets are really aliens who couldn’t fit in with earthlings so they created their own genre and profession.
Poets aren’t good enough writers to be novelists.
Cats are snobbish.
In the last case, this is simply a projection of human behavior onto an animal. Cats actually are incredibly self-reliant and complicated creatures. The mysterious cat baffles many people and those people in turn say nasty things about cats. However, only cat people care what other people say about cats; cats themselves are too busy finding the most comfortable sleeping spot to pay any mind.
I digress. Poetry, like any other genre, explores life from the point of view of the particular poet. It has its own qualities and drawbacks, but I wouldn’t say that it’s better or worse than novels or essays or any other medium. Instead of judging poetry for what it isn’t, I suggest finding out what different poets have to offer. Just like with novels, some poetry resonates with me immediately, and sometimes I know which poets to avoid for the rest of my life. I adore Marie Howe, Nick Flynn, and Mark Doty for their beautiful explorations of the struggle of living after a loved one’s death. That’s poetry I can relate to. Tony Hoagland is a poet I reach for when I need someone with a keen eye and sense of humor. Dylan Thomas, when I want to be stunned.
I do have a number of books of poetry, but I can so easily find the very best poetry online as well. I’m quite happy with this new (launched today) site: The Poetry Archive. It
exists to help make poetry accessible, relevant and enjoyable to a wide audience. It came into being as a result of a meeting, in a recording studio, between Andrew Motion, soon after he became U.K. Poet Laureate in 1999, and the recording producer, Richard Carrington. They agreed about how enjoyable and illuminating it is to hear poets reading their work and about how regrettable it was that, even in the recent past, many important poets had not been properly recorded.
I immediately recognized the names of the two patrons of The Poetry Archive: Billy Collins (U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001-2003) and Melvyn Bragg (host of BBC4′s In Our Time, a radio program that “explores the history of ideas”). Listen to a little poetry and even an episode of In Our Time, and you’ll be enriched. (Such intellectual enrichment is fortunate, especially since poetry isn’t known for bringing in lots of shekels.)
On another poetry-related note, Sacramento poet B.L. Kennedy’s journal of poetry was stolen a decade ago but recently resurfaced online. The current owner is asking $10,000. But before you assume this story’s about greed, read the article.