Last night I went to the Warren Co. Fair here in southwestern Ohio with my mother to check on her entries in quilting and sewing. She won a bunch of ribbons of all colors (yay, Mom!), but while we were searching through the rows of craft entries, I noticed a couple of examples of poetry on display. They have a category for Creative Writing at the county fair--in the craft section, along with the ceramics and decorative painting and Christmas wreaths.
I'm still not sure how I feel about this. I'm all for acknowledging writing, especially poetry, in any way possible. And I love the idea of poetry being so mainstream that it's included in the competitions at the county fair. But as a craft entry?
And it was impossible to read any of the entries without a telescope, so the display wasn't attracting readers who could sample the work in the way that, say, quilt enthusiasts could study the fabric selections and stitching expertise of the quilt entries.
And who judged the creative writing? The same person who judged the mosaic picture frames and nature dioramas made out of twigs and mud?
Obviously I'm making too much out of one category with a handful of entries at a single county fair. I keep thinking, though, of the writers who entered. Do they really want to write, or was a poem something to throw in because the category exists? If the fair had a real writing competition, or a contest dedicated only to poetry, and made sure people know about it, how many more entries would they have had? (I'm not talking slam here, with poets reading on a mobile stage as gunning ride engines drown them out and impassive fairgoers stroll by. I'm referring to a real competition, where a knowledgeable judge assesses the entries and the winning poets get to read at an event that's on the official fair schedule, preferably in a more sheltered venue, such as whatever hall or tent the 4-H Club uses for project interviews.)
Speaking of 4-H, I've noted over the years that Creative Writing is now a regular 4-H project category along with sewing and woodworking. Again, someone viewing the entries doesn't get to read the writing, which which sits on remote exhibit shelves. Maybe someday (or maybe it's already happening in some 4-H clubs) the writing project will include DIY publishing, wherein the 4-H members put together and publish a chapbook of their writing, maybe even offered for sale at the fair to support the club (the way granges offer cookbooks for sale). That would certainly be taking poetry directly to the masses. Whether the masses would respond is another matter.
Note: If you think 4-H is all raising livestock and sewing projects, take a look at the national 4-H site. Talk about building a community. And who knew that 4-H members are now encouraged to blog?