Sunday, March 25, 2007

Charles Bernstein on National Poetry Month

April is nearly upon us, and it's time for us to prepare for the minor onslaught of platitudes major publishers will offer their readership as they give lip service to National Poetry Month. Expect a short flurry of big ads, poets advertised who don't usually appear in publisher promotions, and then little if anything at all once the month and the would-be mania for poets and their work abates. Doesn't it seem ironic to anyone that April was picked to be the commemorating period because of Eliot's famous line, which is that the month is "cruel"? This is either amnesia or some ad person pasting together bric a brac to add more sizzle to their pizazz. Charles Bernstein doesn't like National Poetry Month either, and waxes on the point here. It's worth a read.It's a buzz kill the entrenched poets, the few who have measures of fame, position and (yes) money garnered from activities other the popular sale of their books
would rather not grapple with. Bernstein essentially makes the point that by placing "poetry"
(as defined by marketing research in attempts to make it palatable to a reading public that could care less about poets and their poems) of a campaign to spread the word have, in effect, marginalized even more. Bernstein, a smart cookie if a didactic poet, prefers a form without sanctioned codification and conditions that can challenge , fester, disturb,
disrupt; this Disneyland approach to promoting poetry encourages writing with middling ambition, producing middling results. At that point it ceases to be poetry.


  1. Anonymous10:56 AM PDT

    I don't think National Poetry Month is necessarily bad for poetry. I just think it may be bad for Charles Bernstein's poetry. What "dilutes" the form all depends on what you consider potent and what you consider watery.

  2. Bernstein is one of the Language Poets, an interesting and often times brilliant group of poetry problematizers who's uniting principle was that they found the
    preference for the lyric and the personal poem to be from a fairly stacked deck and found it unsatisfying. Hence, they challenge the conventional thinking on how poets are expected to write and what they're supposed to write about.It's not unusual for Bernstein to find National Poetry Month suspect as well; like him, I find the enterprise patronizing, and tend to think it encourages the writing of poems according to codifications other than those of the poets. Really, there are so many "competent" poets out there publishing work that is virtually indistinguishable
    from volume to volume. It's not, of course, that poets have gotten worse over the years, but that there are more books of a limited aesthetic getting published; the requirement seems to be glad handing and staying within boundries. National Poetry Month might well do some good, but I find it a means of telling poets to behave.

  3. Anonymous3:42 PM PDT

    Well, to the extent the month is about dragging out old warhorses I agree. That said, I figure any effort to up the interest in poetry among people who find it as appetizing as soggy spinach is worth at least one hand clapping. Telling people they're reading the "wrong" kind of poetry with an inferior aesthetic is part how poetry dug itself this hole.

    I agree behaving in art makes it boring. But at least the P-word is actually on people's lips more this month than the rest of the year. You can still misbehave in your work while showing solidarity for those that do write the "suitable" poems that get pasted up in buses. Hot damn - it's poetry - in public - three cheers!


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