Skip to main content

Poetry Is Difficult

There is a scene near the end of The Fabulous Baker Boys, when the little and elder brothers, long-time, sophisticated, professional piano players for hotel lounges, end up playing a third-rate telethon, for "Channel 71", to raise money for "basketballs". The TV host calls them the "Barker Boys" and interrupts their act unceremoniously. A fight breaks out. There is only so much small-minded, contemptuous indifference these diligent, talented, but ultimately anonymous men can take. Then heart break.

Working as a poet is a lot like being a Fabulous Baker Boy. Some days (and this is one of them) the modest pleasure of craft and art, the challenge of doing what's best, what's most difficult, is outweighed by the sheer lousy nonsense of the world and its celebrity playboys.

For the record, I have been working as a poet, poetry organizer, and editor / anthologist since 87/88 - about 20 years. My first anthology was published just as I turned 21. I'm 41 now. Every day, every week, every month, is a slog. Recently, I appeared in Montreal, to launch my latest collection, Winter Tennis. The event was well attended; earlier in the week, I had read with John Burnside, Erin Moure, Dennis Lee (big names, talented poets). Something called "Book TV" was in the room for my launch, and the small press publisher's PR assistant managed to call the camera and TV person over, to get me my fifteen seconds. The first thing she did was ask me why my "unusual name" was "Winter". She thought my name was "Winter Tennis" and the title of the book was Todd Swift.

Small indignity, you might say - move on, mate. But it is vastly symptomatic of a profound truth. Poets, editors, poetry activists like myself make great personal and financial sacrifices, for (literally) decades, to be simply ignored or, worse, misnamed, at the end of it all. This wouldn't be so bad, if the media was as grossly clumsy with our prose peers - but, like parents who favour one sibling over another to an outrageous extent, novelists are showered with praise, attention, and - yes, this does matter - support - financial, logistical, cultural and otherwise. This magnitude of difference, in terms of public reception and recognition, between the poet and novelist, is so vast, as to beggar belief. It is made worse by prizes, which accentuate the have and have not poets. The greater public has near-zero tolerance for poets, but can muster a minimal shrug of spasmodic interest in a prize-winner. Ask the public to name poems they really love, then why. They really can't.

I have long argued for, and tried, in my own small ways, to promote, poetry's greater cultural relevance. I still believe poetry is the highest art form, maybe even the finest intellectual, if not spiritual, pursuit, alongside philosophy. I am no longer sure poetry is widely sustainable, unless the mainstream public, the media, and the poetry world itself, try harder to work together. There needs to be a moving away from marketing, from reducing everything to sound-bites. The attempt to sell poetry as a "story" the media can "use" means its truer values have been distorted, and the public no longer understands or cares about the art's richer, subtler worth.

While the public at large is indifferent, I yearn for a welcoming hand, comrades and good fellows, for those who seek to open and share, not close and horde.
2 comments

Popular posts from this blog

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

OSCAR SMOSHCAR

The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…