My current MFA reading is Dana Gioia’s Essays, collected under the title of his most contraversial one: Can Poetry Matter?
The title essay is a powerful and occasionally anguished indictment of the state of poetry at the time of writing (1992), lamenting in particular the extent to which poetry had barricaded itself into the ivory towers of academia and lost its general public audience.
It is the nature of such essays that they are of the moment. In his new introduction to the book, Gioia himself is cautiously optimistic about the revival in the fortunes of American poetry outside the university system. Gioia’s essay, much like its predecessors by Epstein (“Who Killed Poetry?”, 1988) and Wilson (“Is Verse a Dying Technique?”, 1934) is now a historical rather than an activist document. However, I feel that American poetry still has some way to go. Like a schoolchild with an improved report, the risk of backsliding is very much present.
With that in mind I would like to reproduce here, in paraphrase, Dana Gioia’s six recommendations as to easy steps individual poets and poetry co-ordinators can take themselves to help make poetry matter, and continue to matter for decades to come:
- When the opportunity arises, recite other poets’ work in public. My former professor BJ Ward always did this (I suspect he had read Dana’s essay) and my good friend and fellow poet Rachel does the same thing. I intend to do it when I can in the future. I don’t think it’s practical at Open Mikes when I am limited to one or two poems, but for my featured readings (Keyport in April and Bryn Mawr in August) I shall read at least one poem by my own favorite poets.
- Mix poetry with the other arts. Again, difficult for me to do singlehandedly. However, if any local musicians wish to approach me with a view to a collaboration, I’ll be happy to listen. I will also contribute once again to Poetry Alive, where a troupe of actors visually interpret poems live on stage.
- Write prose about poetry that can be understood by a general readership. That is of course partly what i am doing here. I also plan to include an editorial, an essay and a review in each upcoming edition of The Barefoot Muse.
- Poets who edit anthologies (and journals) must select on merit alone. See my earlier post about A Formal Feeling Comes and about submissions for the two journals I edit. I am proud to say that both journals have rejected name poets since I wrote that entry. We will continue to do so.
- Poetry teachers should spend more time reading poetry in classes and less time analysing it. My next children’s poetry workshop is April 9th, and I plan to read at least five children’s poems and one classic poem appropriate for children. I haven’t decided which one that should be, so recommendations are welcome. I rather like Rudyard Kiplng’s “A Smuggler’s Song.”
- Integrate poetry more with radio. I don’t have access to any public radio, of course, but two of my poems are presently available as voice recordings on my personal website, and I intend to up that number. Ideally all my favorite previously published pieces should be available as sound files, especially as everyone just lurves my accent!
Now, what are YOU going to do?