National Poetry Month card #5

National Poetry Month greeting card - Charles Bernstein

The avant-garde poet Charles Bernstein wrote a widely linked essay called “Against National Poetry Month As Such.”

I’m doing one of these cards a day until the end of April. To send it, copy the permalink or the image file link into an email, tweet, Facebook DM, etc. — or just download and make free with the image.

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6 Comments


  1. North American poets may be, as someone once said, more faction-ridden than a Troskyite cell, but the one thing we all have in common is a great sense of resentment. This is often channelled against the far-from-mighty Poetry Establishment, but it’s actually rooted in our acute awareness of the fact that almost nobody in the larger society gives a rat’s ass about us or our work.

    I think it’s time to grow up. Rather than penning clever screeds against other poets, why not use all the tools of the internet and the digital revolution and launch your own damn campaign? As the end of the essay demonstrates, Bernstein has some great ideas. But I suspect he’d rather just bellyache about the Academy — who have no more say about what happens during National Poetry Month than anyone else. And in the years since his essay was written, NaPoWriMo has caught on and turned into a much bigger deal than anything the Academy could ever think of – an international netroots phenomenon.

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  2. So are you saying it’s wrong to agree with him? Because I sort of do. And though the second part of his essay is probably sarcastic, he makes a great point. You’d probably do more for poetry by banning it for a month, making people realize how much a part of life it really is. Or isn’t.

    But I guess I feel like poetry is elitist maybe on purpose. Though Wordsworth always wanted the common man to be able to read a poem, I think it’s even more challenging than philosophy. And there’s a mistaken notion that breaking a sentence into short lines and removing caps and punctuation makes something a poem.

    I’m still working this one out in my head. I could be convinced either way.

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    1. Well, obviously I’m of two minds on this, too. You might’ve noticed these cards are less than adulatory about the month, or at least the (relative) hype surrounding it. I definitely don’t think that poets should deliberately make their stuff simpler to attract an audience, but I don’t actually see too many people doing that. That’s a bit of a straw man. Yes, poetry requires a kind of effort that a lot of people aren’t accustomed to, which does restrict its consumption and production to a knowledgeable elite. That doesn’t make it elitist, though, any more than a computer programming language or the terminology of any given specialty is elitist. Anyone can learn it. I’m a big fan of “difficult” music, and some avant-garde poetry, too, but I stop listening when people try and assert that theirs is the one true approach. And I think Bernstein is a pompous ass.

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  3. It is sometimes hard to give any props to a pompous ass. And I agree with you, too. Still, computer programming is another knowledge monopoly, but I am for knowledge monopolies.

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  4. Poetry is highly important but like so many artforms sometimes takes itself too seriously. And you do get those pretentious idiots in all genres that are so ‘up them selves’ that they really do need someone or something to pop that bubble. This works well.

    Cheers!

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    1. You’re right. Important as symbolic language is to being human, I actually don’t think poetry should enjoy pride of place among the arts. To me, the highest art is food preparation, followed by dance and then music; poetry comes in fourth, on roughly equal footing with painting, sculpture, and the other visual arts. But even chefs need to take themselves with a grain of salt (so to speak).

      Thanks for stopping by.

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