Yesterday, I stumbled upon an article called “I Don’t “Get” Poetry Readings” at HTMLGIANT, explaining why its author (Bethany Prosseda) doesn’t “get” poetry or poetry readings. Not that I want to get into a big argument about “getting” poetry or poetry readings, but… I do “get” poetry readings, and so there are a few things I want to say.
But first, a few disclaimers:
- I do not know who Eric Dolphy is
- I did not read the article Prosseda refers to, “I Don’t ‘Get’ Art”
- I did not watch the film Prosseda refers to, Tiny Furniture
- I think Prosseda’s article is more about not “getting” poetry than about not “getting” poetry readings, but there are a few things I want to say about that, too
- I grew up in a rural community where there were no poets and no poetry readings
First, regarding poetry readings:
A poetry reading is an event where poets read their work aloud (and I’ve even heard some poets recite their work — always a treat). It’s a chance for us to listen to poetry — which is first and foremost an oral art form — as we have been doing for millenia. That is all.
Yes, some readings are full of people who are there because their literature professors require them to attend. As someone who, before her sophomore year in college, didn’t even know there was such a thing as a reading (see disclaimer #5 above) where writers would read their work aloud, I’ve always been grateful for that literature professor who required me to attend a reading. Thank you, professor, for helping me find my tribe.
Now, about poetry.
I don’t “get” abstract art. This does not mean abstract art isn’t accessible to me. It doesn’t even mean I don’t like some abstract art. It means I haven’t spent much time studying or interacting with abstract art. The same can be said for me and NASCAR, yoga, micro-finance, chili cook-offs, embroidery, circuit design, wood carving, and fantasy football, amongst many, many other things. It does not mean abstract art, NASCAR, yoga, micro-finance, chili cook-offs, embroidery, circuit design, wood carving, and fantasy football have gone underground or forgotten to send Christmas cards.
Yes, it’s true that when asked “What’s your favorite poem?,” many Americans will answer with, as Prosseda notes, “works like, ‘Casey at the Bat,’ ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends,’ and every now and then a piece by Poe, Plath, Whitman or Cummings.” She argues that this is because “a shift has occurred in poetry. It seems that at some point, poetry went underground.” She points out that all of these poems are several decades old, and all of these poets are dead.
And this is where I have to disagree (at least partially. If by “underground” she means that some poetry is difficult to understand on the face of it, she’s right — some poetry has always been that way. Then again, some poetry is not intended to be “understood” so much as heard and/or experienced). I believe Americans are apt to cite “Casey at the Bat,” Shel Silverstein, Poe, Plath, Whitman or Cummings because those are the only poems they’ve been exposed to. Last time I was in high school and college (admittedly, it’s been a while), we did not study even one poem or poet who was living and working at that time. Did you?
Perhaps if K-12 and college curricula included the work of living poets, we would all be able to cite some work by living poets. (*P.S. Updated to say: I’m not saying this as an indictment of K-12 and college curricula — heaven knows there’s a lot to teach! My point is that without exposure to something it’s hard to like, love, ‘get,’ or cite it as your favorite).
Meanwhile, those of us who love poetry will continue to read it, study it, listen to it, and “get” it. Amen.