Too Much Money Is a Bad Thing for Poetry?!?

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"A Windfall Illuminates the Poetry Field, and Its Fights," by Julia M. Klein from The New York Times, reports on the 5-year progress of the Poetry Foundation (once the Modern Poetry Association), publisher of Poetry Magazine, using a $100 million grant from pharmaceutical company heiress Ruth Lilly.

In 2002, there was a lot of shock and envy at such a large grant going to one entity. In 2007, there appears to be a combination of acceptance and snobbery--with some poets applauding the Foundation's work to spread the poetry gospel and other poets feeling the whole thing is dumbing down the institution of poetry.

Regardless of how you feel on the issue, it is an interesting article.


For my own part, I took issue with a quote attributed to J.D. McClatchy (a poet who I enjoy reading and have always found accessible): "Poetry is supposed to complicate people's lives, not to reassure them, or to be a humorous relaxation or an amusing spot on the radio."

While poetry can complicate people's lives, I think this statement limits the purpose of poetry, which I feel can be summed up in one vulgar word for the academic crowd: Entertainment.

Poetry is meant to entertain. Arguing over whether poetry should be complex and disturbing or light and funny is like arguing over whether all fiction should be romance or mystery. Fiction's strength is its variety of genres and niches; poetry has that same strength in its various forms and audiences.

I've seen some poets argue that metrical poetry is the only way, while other poets push against forms of any kind. I've seen poets say that real poetry should only be concerned with language and structure, while other poets only acknowledge poems with some kind of real meaning at the heart of the poem. All the while, I've thought poets and those who love poetry should embrace the whole durned thing--from the teenage boy writing a poem for his unrequited love to the post-grad scholar constructing an anagrammatic series of sestinas that incorporate mythological interpretations of the meaning of pop culture references in the 1980s (hey, whatever floats yer boat).

Anyway, sorry for the rant, but I just often don't understand why all us poets can't just get along.


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