THE MODERN POET’S DILEMMA

The poet today is in a real pickle.

The newspaperman doesn’t trust him.

The newspaperman once appealed to the brain, and the poet, to the heart.  But today the journalist is as emotional and big-hearted as the poet once was, while the poet, now trained in the university and too sophisticated to ever write heart-felt verses again, is perceived by the general public to be all brain, and no heart.

But is the brain really the poet’s realm today?   I think even the most disinterested Language Poet in a lab coat would retort, if pressed on the matter, “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”  And God knows, the Ted Koosers and Sharon Olds of the world sing to the heart.

But in social reality (to which the poet surely belongs) perecption is reality, and the university-trained poet is brainy in the eyes of the general public.  Even Ted Kooser and Sharon Olds are smart compared to your typical, heart-felt journalist.   (It helps, of course, to be known as ‘Billy.’)

It’s true that during the holiday season, newspapers tug at the heart-strings more than usual, but it’s every poet’s duty to recognize just how much the print media (which competes with the poet, whether we want to admit it, or not) indulges in stories of emotional realism.

Longfellow-ism drives the journalist, even in places like the New York Times and the Boston Globe; though every reader knows no journalist is a Longfellow, no weaver of magic words and words’ sounds.

But then, neither is the poet.

The journalist goes for sentimental dreck and deceptive rhetoric at every turn.  If there’s a dramatic, sentimental angle to be exploited, every journalist, no matter how sophisticated, will go for it every time: the politician drinking with the pub’s owner, the the tears of the widow, the joy of the birth…be human the editor keeps saying.  “Fear of Unrest Grows” is the favorite phrase of the highly emotional newspaper; the fact of unrest does not exist, but that doesn’t stop the passionate newspaperman from writing in large letters: FEAR OF UNREST GROWS.

But if the newspaper trades in Longfellow-ism, wouldn’t the editor be sympathetic to the poet and celebrate poetry?    No, because here’s the rub: the editor may be all heart, but the time-honored tradition of reporting the world’s events to the world still lingers, and this requires—at least in the proud heart of the editor—brains, acumen, and objectivity.   It doesn’t matter that newspapers are purveyors of sloppy language and emotionalism; they wish to be perceived as smart, too, and in this insecure area, the poets, no longer Longfellows, but profound, MFA-trained experts in esoteric matters of language and expression, are rivals, not friends of the newspaperman.

Newspapers still believe in truth, although they convey little of it.

Respectable and distinguished poets no longer believe in Longfellow, and thus in a climate of tradition and passion which surrounds them everywhere, and without any actual scientific credentials, and yet radiating brainy expert-ism, the poets have no friends, and nowhere to go.

And so: FEAR OF POETRY IS GROWING.

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2 Comments

  1. Noochness said,

    December 26, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    “Charming Billy” by the great Johnny Preston
    (Born in 1939, in case there’s any question).

    • Noochness said,

      December 26, 2010 at 11:17 pm

      Curses, foiled again….


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