Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2011 / 8 Elul, 5771
Of Poets Good, Bad and In-Between
By Paul Greenberg
For democracy is the death of poetry and often enough of poets, who may be reduced to penury if they're any good. Though bad ones can thrive, or at least get a job with Hallmark.
Yes, a Whitmanesque songteller may arise from time to time here at home, like a
But much as we homers love the effect and affect of our prairie bards, this kind of thing tends to be more sentimental than poetic.
And we still produce the kind of assembly-line poets whose syndicated work used to appear in newspapers (The Poet's Corner) and so ruined the art for generations of kids growing up on the morning paper.
But poetry, the real thing, and not just everything and anything that goes by the name, must be selective. Like the soul. (The soul selects her own society,/ Then shuts the door . . . --
What de Tocqueville said of painting applies to poetry, too, when it comes to Democracy in America: "In aristocracies a few great pictures are produced; in democratic countries, a vast number of insignificant ones."
Tyranny, on the other hand, can be the health of poetry. See
As long as Stalin and his heirs ruled, manuscripts were passed from hand to hand like a secret treasure, which they were. But when the thaw finally came, Russian writers lost their urgency and intensity and audience. There was no longer a pressing need for it. Freedom will do that; it takes the edge off poetry of the political kind.
Which is why the announcement of a new poet laureate in America, however good or bad or in-between, is greeted mainly by a yawn in this country, if it be greeted at all. The business of America remains business. (Coolidge, Calvin.)
Yes, some do know who the new poet laureate is -- the other members of the guild, the always dwindling audience for poetry in a democratic society, the hopelessly retentive, maybe even a newspaper columnist who's sick of politics for a day, but still notices how politic the selection of an American poet laureate is.
Occasionally a real poet will be the laureate -- an
And how artificial, how imported, the title sounds: American poet laureate. Much like our own version of the queen's honors list -- the Medal of Freedom. Its recipients, too, are duly named every year. There is something foreign about all such titles of nobility. Much like those shakoes
The newest poet laureate is
The choice of
From sweet to tart, it's a nice change of pace and taste.
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