So soon as word was brought me that Mr. Coventry was come with the barge to the Tower, I went to him, and found him reading of the Psalms in short hand (which he is now busy about), and had good sport about the long marks that are made there for sentences in divinity, which he is never like to make use of. Here he and I sat till the Comptroller came and then we put off for Deptford, where we went on board the King’s pleasure boat that Commissioner Pett is making, and indeed it will be a most pretty thing.
From thence to Commr. Pett’s lodging, and there had a good breakfast, and in came the two Sir Wms. from Walthamstow, and so we sat down and did a great deal of public business about the fitting of the fleet that is now going out.
That done we went to the Globe and there had a good dinner, and by and by took barge again and so home. By the way they would have me sing, which I did to Mr. Coventry, who went up to Sir William Batten’s, and there we staid and talked a good while, and then broke up and I home, and then to my father’s and there lay with my wife.

I read in shorthand
the long sentences
like a troll on board
the King’s boat,
making a pretty deal
of public sin—
fitting in.
I gain a home.
They have me sing.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 16 April 1661.

From my father’s, it being a very foul morning for the King and Lords to go to Windsor, I went to the office and there met Mr. Coventry and Sir Robt. Slingsby, but did no business, but only appoint to go to Deptford together tomorrow. Mr. Coventry being gone, and I having at home laid up 200l. which I had brought this morning home from Alderman Backwell’s, I went home by coach with Sir R. Slingsby and dined with him, and had a very good dinner. His lady seems a good woman and very desirous they were to hear this noon by the post how the election has gone at Newcastle, wherein he is concerned, but the letters are not come yet.
To my uncle Wight’s, and after a little stay with them he and I to Mr. Rawlinson’s, and there staid all the afternoon, it being very foul, and had a little talk with him what good I might make of these ships that go to Portugal by venturing some money by them, and he will give me an answer to it shortly. So home and sent for the Barber, and after that to bed.

A morning wind
did business in the alder.

Coach dined with post—
where the letters come.

A stay had a little talk
with a ship.

So money will give me
an answer shortly.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 15 April 1661.

(Easter. Lord’s day). In the morning towards my father’s, and by the way heard Mr. Jacomb, at Ludgate, upon these words, “Christ loved you and therefore let us love one another,” and made a lazy sermon, like a Presbyterian. Then to my father’s and dined there, and Dr. Fairbrother (lately come to town) with us. After dinner I went to the Temple and there heard Dr. Griffith, a good sermon for the day; so with Mr. Moore (whom I met there) to my Lord’s, and there he shewed me a copy of my Lord Chancellor’s patent for Earl, and I read the preamble, which is very short, modest, and good.
Here my Lord saw us and spoke to me about getting Mr. Moore to come and govern his house while he goes to sea, which I promised him to do and did afterwards speak to Mr. Moore, and he is willing.
Then hearing that Mr. Barnwell was come, with some of my Lord’s little children, yesterday to town, to see the Coronacion, I went and found them at the Goat, at Charing Cross, and there I went and drank with them a good while, whom I found in very good health and very merry. Then to my father’s, and after supper seemed willing to go home, and my wife seeming to be so too I went away in a discontent, but she, poor wretch, followed me as far in the rain and dark as Fleet Bridge to fetch me back again, and so I did, and lay with her to-night, which I have not done these eight or ten days before.

The Way is like a patent to govern sea
or a barn with children
or a goat merry in the rain.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 14 April 1661.

To Whitehall by water from Towre-wharf, where we could not pass the ordinary way, because they were mending of the great stone steps against the Coronacion. With Sir W. Pen, then to my Lord’s, and thence with Capt. Cuttance and Capt. Clark to drink our morning draught together, and before we could get back again my Lord was gone out. So to Whitehall again and, met with my Lord above with the Duke; and after a little talk with him, I went to the Banquethouse, and there saw the King heal, the first time that ever I saw him do it; which he did with great gravity, and it seemed to me to be an ugly office and a simple one. That done to my Lord’s and dined there, and so by water with parson Turner towards London, and upon my telling of him of Mr. Moore to be a fit man to do his business with Bishop Wren, about which he was going, he went back out of my boat into another to Whitehall, and so I forwards home and there by and by took coach with Sir W. Pen and Captain Terne and went to the buriall of Captain Robert Blake, at Wapping, and there had each of us a ring, but it being dirty, we would not go to church with them, but with our coach we returned home, and there staid a little, and then he and I alone to the Dolphin (Sir W. Batten being this day gone with his wife to Walthamstow to keep Easter), and there had a supper by ourselves, we both being very hungry, and staying there late drinking I became very sleepy, and so we went home and I to bed.

We could not mend
the great stone.
I saw the king heal it
with simple water
and go to the burial of dirt.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 13 April 1661.

National Poetry Month 2014 posterCharles Bernstein was right: National Poetry Month is a failure. How do I know this? Because neither All Things Considered nor the New York Times, in their main stories on this year’s Pulitzers, bothered to mention the winner for poetry (3 Sections, by Vijay Seshadri from Graywolf Press). Both did of course mention who won for fiction. The Times article also mentioned the nonfiction and drama winners, while Neda Ulaby’s story on ATC included a bit about the winner for music — and modern classical music is surely a less popular art form even than modern poetry. Nor is this the first time that NPR has done this; I remember noticing the same omission last year.

I can only conclude that people in the news rooms of the newspaper of record and National Public Radio have decided that poetry just isn’t newsworthy — even when one of the two or three most significant American poetry book prizes is awarded right in the middle of April. Raising the profile of poetry is the central goal of National Poetry Month, which the Academy of American Poets has been relentlessly flogging for years, with the support of other major organizations such as the American Poetry Foundation, the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Neither the New York Times nor National Public Radio seem especially hostile to poetry, either — that’s part of what makes this omission so telling. They each cover poets and poetry from time to time, I suppose as a way of trying to inflate their cultural capital. But they don’t cover it when it matters.

cowboy poetryThere is one poetry-related initiative in April that seems to have caught on a little, and that’s NaPoWriMo (which didn’t exist when Bernstein wrote his screed in 1999). The thing about that is that it’s actually very international, plus it began as an answer to NaNoWriMo, so its connection to National Poetry Month in the US seems tenuous at best. Also, I’m not sure that getting more people to write poetry necessarily leads to more people reading poetry. Poets are often some of the worst readers of poetry, in fact. So while I’m glad that NaPoWriMo has proved to have such traction and staying power, I’m not sure that it furthers the National Poetry Month goal of promoting the appreciation of poetry among general readers.

Bernstein concluded his essay with this suggestion, which I think makes more sense than ever:

As an alternative to National Poetry Month, I propose that we have an International Anti-Poetry month. As part of the activities, all verse in public places will be covered over—from the Statue of Liberty to the friezes on many of our government buildings. Poetry will be removed from radio and TV (just as it is during the other eleven months of the year). Parents will be asked not to read Mother Goose and other rimes to their children but only … fiction. Religious institutions will have to forego reading verse passages from the liturgy and only prose translations of the Bible will recited, with hymns strictly banned. Ministers in the Black churches will be kindly requested to stop preaching. Cats will be closed for the month by order of the Anti-Poetry Commission. Poetry readings will be replaced by self-help lectures. Love letters will have to be written only in expository paragraphs. Baseball will have to start its spring training in May. No vocal music will be played on the radio or sung in the concert halls. Children will have to stop playing all slapping and counting and singing games and stick to board games and football.