A fantastic essay by Charles Bernstein on the limitations of National Poetry Month. I don’t want to come across as too anti-NPM. I’m taking advantage of its auspices to organize a large open-mic shindig on campus next Wednesday. But Bernstein has a serious point, especially in his witty conclusion:

As an alternative to National Poetry Month, I propose that we have an International Anti-Poetry month. As part of the activities, all verse in public places will be covered over—from the Statue of Liberty to the friezes on many of our government buildings. Poetry will be removed from radio and TV (just as it is during the other eleven months of the year). Parents will be asked not to read Mother Goose and other rimes to their children but only … fiction. Religious institutions will have to forego reading verse passages from the liturgy and only prose translations of the Bible will recited, with hymns strictly banned. Ministers in the Black churches will be kindly requested to stop preaching. Cats will be closed for the month by order of the Anti-Poetry Commission. Poetry readings will be replaced by self-help lectures. Love letters will have to be written only in expository paragraphs. Baseball will have to start its spring training in May. No vocal music will be played on the radio or sung in the concert halls. Children will have to stop playing all slapping and counting and singing games and stick to board games and football.

As part of the campaign, the major daily newspapers will run full page ads with this text:

Go ahead, don’t read any poetry.

You won’t be able to understand it anyway:
the best stuff is all over your head.

And there aren’t even any commercials to liven up the action.

Anyway, you’ll end up with a headache trying to figure out
what the poems are saying because they are saying
NOTHING.

Who needs that.

Better go to the movies.

He’s right that poetry occupies a greater part of our national life than most people are willing to admit, though I think he’s conflating poetry and rhetoric in a few of these instances (sermons, for example, may be eloquent, but aren’t poems). He’s also right that you can’t guilt people into liking poetry. As Horace pointed out in the Ars Poetica, poetry has power because it both pleases and instructs. If you take away the pleasure and turn it into a moral obligation, you kill it.

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