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In Defense of Poetry

Back in 2013 the Washington Post ran a commentary that asked why modern poetry is so bad. In that article, poetry was accused of being “hermetic,” “oblique,” and full of “perpetual hedging.” An article this year in the Telegraph slammed such celebrated writings as William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and poems by Shelley, Tennyson, and Wordsworth. Recently, Kristen Stewart apparently attempted to write a poem that she shared entitled “My Heart Is a Wiffle Ball” – with expected groaning.

It’s no secret. Poetry is the least enjoyed literary form and the bane of every Intro to Composition student’s existence. Nobody cares what iambic pentameter is, and most people find poetry to be cryptic, overwrought, and entirely frivolous. This year’s Pulitzer for the poetry category went to Peter Balakian’s Ozone Journala chapbook that covers such brutal subject matter as the Armenian genocide, divorce, and AIDS. At the time of writing this, Balakian’s chapbook has a grand total of 1 customer review on Amazon

People don’t like poetry. Publishers reject poetry books because they don’t sell. People hear from literary wizards in ivory tower professorships that Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is the true epic pinnacle of American poetic accomplishment. If they have any curiosity and actually go pick up the book, the first page greets them with this:

One’s-self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.
Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse, I say
the Form complete is worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing

What fresh hell is this? Is this intelligible to any earthly human being? What the heck is a physiognomy? The rest of the book is more than 100 pages of mish-mashed allegory, pontificating ramble, and Lincoln worship. Hardly the crisp and erudite introspection that poetry is described to be by those who love it. So what gives?

The problem, in part, is that readers expect understanding to come from the words alone, as they entirely should. But poets, more than a few at least, will write in such a tortured manner as to force their reader to consult the dictionary seven times per paragraph, a history book at least twice, and a compendium of etymologies and literary imagery about infinity times by the end of the chapbook. It does not need to be this way. And additionally, the problem here is exaggerated.

Most poetry anthologies aren’t that bad, some are superb, it’s just that the ones famous for their historical importance get blown all out of proportion by people who have the unusually specialized scholarship and breadth of liberal arts and humanities education to more plainly understand the words. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl achieves some balance – demanding some cultural literacy from the reader, but not so much that it leaves the thing entirely impenetrable to those who don’t “get” the references. Anything ever written by Maya Angelou is entirely understandable by a plain reading of the words with or without a liberal arts education.

The point is: poetry is not bad. It’s just like every other genre in the sense that the old stuff is full of antiquated and unintelligible verse, the modern stuff is prone to scholarly boorishness, and the good stuff is the simple, uncomplicated, straightforward, powerful deployment of words to affect a reader’s emotions. Perhaps a rare find, but then think – how many books in the bookstore are actually worth reading anyway? Ten percent?

Poetry is its own animal and one must learn to experience it as an entirely different method of reading. Poetry is short and clipped compared to narrative or prose form. It is an attempt to expunge all unnecessary wordiness and even some context to cut to the heart of an idea, a thought, an emotion, an experience, or an observation. Poetry is the reduction of all the background noise that you find in an essay in order to get to the gist, and to more musically and expressively consider the gist. It is a method of taking away all the dicta to get straight to the true rationale or the essence.

Part of the problem is we expect certain conventions. We expect sentences to have a beginning and an end. We expect a fully fledged noun and verb, an object and a subject. We are so entirely used to reading in the prose form that the formula for writing we are most familiar with looks lopsided and half-bare without all the padding that has comforted us and guided us in more traditional forms of writing. Learning to appreciate poetry requires some courage and willingness to abandon all that hand-holding, and to embrace a new set of rules, or worse – a place where words exist without rules.

In 1851 the famed writer of Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley, wrote an essay on the defense of poetry. His praise for the art form is instructive. He describes poetry as the expression of human imagination, and the turning of imagination into melody. He was a formal poet – who followed the strictures of verse and rhyme. The compactness and the precision of well created words can either fall flat as a an inane profundity, or become vibrant as a song, more capable of connecting with a person’s consciousness. He saw poetry as binding the author and the reader with a greater sense of empathy and morality and with more exercise, the stronger he believed those faculties could become:

A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own…Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight… Poetry strengthens the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb.

Brushstrokes can create a mess. But deployed creatively and with training or practice, they can make art. The same is true of words. Poets can create a mess with their words – a garbled mash of ideas, or an evocative stab to the heart that some five-paragraph essay could never achieve. The best defense of poetry is to stop thinking of it as a form of literature, but instead as a form of artwork. There are abstract versions of artwork, and there are true to life versions. There are paintings that depict serenity and love, and paintings that throw the brutality of war and famine into your privileged face. Poems do the same, except the colors and vibrations take place in your head instead of on the canvas. As far as I can tell there are four reasons poetry serves well as an art form: brevity, beauty, cadence, and lawlessness.

Brevity

French Philosopher Blaise Pascal was quoted in a letter saying: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” It takes effort to take an expansive thought and trim it down to the component parts or the underlying idea – to go from verbosity to pithiness. There is beauty in being succinct. Being economical about words is a tried and true method of editing used by writers for centuries: to write in a rambling, prosaic expository manner in order to get all the thoughts onto paper, and then in the editing process to trim away the fat. What kinds of fat might there be in prose? Repetitious adjectives, unnecessary connecting phrases, overly conclusory observations, thrown away lines of dialogue that have little to do with the thesis. Then with poetry, we can cut even more – all the way to the bone. Nearly eliminate connecting words, half of the article adjectives, mandatory punctuation, unspecific modifiers, and anything that isn’t descriptive.

An example from Langston Hughes:

What happens to a dream deferred?

     Does it dry up
     like a raisin in the sun?
     Or fester like a sore—
     And then run?
     Does it stink like rotten meat?
     Or crust and sugar over—
     like a syrupy sweet?

     Maybe it just sags
     like a heavy load.

     Or does it explode?

We don’t have to know what the dream is specifically, but intelligent awareness can give us a hint. This poem played in my head over and over during the Ferguson, Missouri protests. That last line packs a punch. Books have been written with more than 60,000 words that say essentially the same thing in this poem. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham jail hinted at this impatience at what the American Dream means for African Americans. He used 7,000 words. Here, in 1951, Hughes cuts to the heart of all of it in only 51 words. It’s quotable. It can be printed on protest signs. It can be passed down by memory. It can become that well dog-eared page in someone’s notes for the awareness and warning that it brings. If a book is juice, poetry is the concentrate.

Beauty or Poignancy

Not all poetry is beautiful per se. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote about love about as much as he wrote about hardship. But everything he wrote had poignancy if not beauty. Some poetry somehow achieves both mournful tragedy and aesthetic beauty at the same time, like Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach. Part of the problem with enjoying poetry is that we too often feel it to be a riddle to be solved as opposed to a fine wine to be sipped and enjoyed. This is the same problem with reading about half of Shakespeare, or the Bible, or Dante’s Inferno. They were not written for us (all of us) to understand. Matthew Arnold was writing words he knew would only eventually be read by the literate and educated English Victorians who, like him, had a well-rounded understanding of references to to Homer and Greek Mythology, and Jonathan Swift. We don’t as readily have that specific literary training today, and so parts of his poetry are lost upon modern minds. 

Given the right tools, and given the right author (meaning the author who writes to us instead of someone else) we can read plenty of beautiful poetry. It’s not going to be a random poetry book you pull off the shelf – full of verse that might be important for history’s sake but which might blind us with brain clogging references to things with which we have no familiarity. It would be a book by someone you know, or a contemporary in your lifestyle, your region, your social class. One good rule of thumb is to choose the “performance poet” – someone who is still alive and kicking, and who reads their poetry to audiences. In other words, someone who has trained themselves to be understood by the masses.

An example from Sierra Demulder:

Inevitably, my father will cry at my wedding.
He will be dressed in his only suit coat
which he wears as naturally as a cardboard box.
His jeans, his tie mechanically hung like tinsel…

the way only a father of three women does,
his chest is a tired buoy. It sighs and rises
and everything in his face sinks
as if someone tossed a rock into the pond
and the ripples expand forever and it
is the most beautiful drowning.

Notice how you don’t need the stanzas to have an incredibly touching few sentences here. It is written plainly, without complication. The separation between the lines is done for emphasis and pacing – because it’s not meant to be read like a normal paragraph. This is modern poetry written accessibly. It forces you to feel what you read.

Cadence

You aren’t going to find much of anything musical in a manuscript on, say, the history of world war one. History writers don’t have the permission of scholars and publishers to use onomatopoetic artistry to capture the sound of the guns firing, the hiss of the air as a missile flies by, or to use alliteration to make a certain points attract extra attention. The repetition of identical vowel sounds called assonance, and the repetition of the same word at the beginning of a line called anaphora would likewise be forbidden in any non-poetic form. Even if used in good fiction writing it might be seen as obtuse and would destroy the pacing of the rest of the book unless the whole thing was actually a poem in disguise (as some books are). Some fiction novels will merge into a poetic form for a page or a chapter when they hit their most gripping sequence for this very reason. If you want to stop talking about caliber and velocity and start talking about the ratta-tat-tat that can shake a soldier to his marrow, you have to start delving into the poetic jargon. Poetry makes words more useful to us.

An example from Siegfried Sassoon:

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

We have to point out that all song lyrics are poems. They are they types of poems that lend themselves to audible harmony. Some poems aren’t songs but could easily be sung if wanted.

For example Gwendolyn Brooks’ short poem We Real Cool:

THE POOL PLAYERS.
                  SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

I love the poems that go in for the punch at the last line, like that one. You get into a groove, you start to identify with the pride and recklessness of the content. These badass school skippers who “sing sin” and play pool. I bet they wear neat sunglasses and know how to have a party. And then you hit that last line and the whole thing explodes into a greater sense of meaning.

Lawlessness

Literature has rules. Professional writing has rules. Poetry has had rules from time to time, albeit frequently broken even by the most famous poets that otherwise held themselves to pentameter and rhyme, stanza-couplet formality.

We like rules, and poetry seems to have few of them anymore because we keep reinventing the methods of conveying meaning through the written word. There is something special about being unburdened from a specific format, something whimsical, maybe even charming. Modern poetry is bohemian in that way, rebellious in spirit, circulated in poorly printed booklets bound by staples or string. Freedom of form can mean freedom of thought. Freedom from mass-publishing can mean freedom to experiment. The relentless guidelines of sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, and indentation can be cast aside in favor of whatever structure best suits the message being communicated. It is adaptable and nimble.

Using all the conventions of writing in unconventional ways permits experimentation with satire and emphasis. For example, Ambrose Bierce’s A Rational Anthem:

My country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of felony,
Of thee I sing–
Land where my fathers fried
Young witches and applied
Whips to the Quaker’s hide
And made him spring.

You don’t get that packed-in wit and verve without using poetry. The twisting of a sacred patriotic hymn into a manner that exposes the warts hidden beneath the banal jingoism of the original version. Another example, this time from Emily Dickinson:

Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Straight up repetition is not permitted in non-poetic form. Other forms of writing are forbidden this mechanism of conveying urgency and feeling and rhythm. These words read like song lyrics. They betray norms, and through doing so they give us a deeper idea of the love and elated sentiment that Ms. Dickinson is expressing. The exclamation gives amplitude and the couplet form offers something less bland than the unrhymed prose version, which would read something like: “If I were with you, we would have such extravagant evenings. They would be luxurious, indeed.” One is square and plodding. One is carefree and elevating.

The value of poetry

If you like music you like poems. If you like the playful little things you can do with language, from rhyme to simile, from hyperbole to allusion – then you like poems. If you like how words can paint a picture in your mind and cause you to laugh and cry and empathize and reflect, then you like poetry. Perhaps not the type of poetry in little chapbooks, but you like some version of the art form. An artist might have to choose from 30 to 40 colors, a poet has the entire dictionary and then some for their palette. There are no rules except to poke and prod and as Percy Bysshe Shelley says, to enlarge the circumference of the imagination.

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64 thoughts on “In Defense of Poetry

  1. Interesting post. Poetry seems to be one of the harder things to teach especially at a high school level because politics makes you go around all the good stuff unless you go to an expensive private school or live in a school district filled with really progressive parents. There is also the association and stereotype of overwrought high school students (guilty as charged). One of my favorite poems is the Burning of the Books by Bertlolt Brecht.

    The Burning of the Books
    by Bertolt Brecht

    When the Regime commanded that books with harmful
    knowledge
    Should be publicly burned and on all sides
    Oxen were forced to drag cartloads of books
    To the bonfires, a banished
    Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the
    Burned, was shocked to find his
    Books had been passed over. He rushed to his desk
    On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power
    Burn me! he wrote with flying pen, burn me! Haven’t my
    books
    Always reported the truth? And here you are:
    Treating me like a liar! I command you:
    Burn me!

    The poem has the benefit of being darkly funny. We know the historical event, the Nazi book burning of unacceptable literature and we see a poet’s horrified reaction that the Nazis did not consider him dangerous enough to burn.

    One of my other favorite poems is Communist by John Berryman:

    ‘O tell me of the Russians, Communist, my son!
    Tell me of the Russians, my honest young man!’
    ‘They are moving for the people, mother; let me alone,
    For I’m worn out with reading and want to lie down.’

    ‘But what of the Pact, the Pact, Communist, my son?
    What of the Pact, the Pact, my honest young man?’
    ‘It was necessary, mother; let me alone,
    For I am worn out with reading and want to lie down.’

    ‘Why are they now in Poland, Communist, my son?
    Why are they now in Poland, my honest young man?’
    ‘For the people of Poland, mother; let me alone,
    For I’m worn out with reading and want to lie down.’

    ‘But what of the Baltic States, Communist, my son?
    What of the Baltic States, my honest young man?’
    ‘Nothing can be proven, mother; let me alone,
    For I’m worn out with reading and want to lie down.’

    ‘O I fear for your future, Communist, my son!
    I fear for your future, my honest young man!’
    ‘I cannot speak or think, mother; let me alone,
    For I’m sick at my heart and I want to to lie down.’

    I think the emotional heatbreak is very real but I wonder if this poem is lost on people who are largely unaware of student-lefty politic during the 1930s and how Stalin caused many young idealists to become disillusioned with politics. The poem has become more something to be appreciated by political and history junkies and people with an overly romantic fondness for the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War.

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    • One of the poetry modules my wife teaches is getting students to analyze the lyrics to one of their favorite songs, using the mental toolkit they developed working on poetry.

      Some songs are surprisingly deep. Many students get surprised at how many are shallow.

      Admittedly, she’s also been known to use The Ballad of Eddie Praeger when covering ballads in general…

      (This all led, hilariously, to my wife dressing a student down over rap because he didn’t know the origins of rap, the etymology of the word, the history of rap, or how it related to poetry, literature, and music in the US. I got told by another teacher that my wife, all 5 foot nothing white geeky librarian type, went absolutely ballistic and schooled a 17 year old rapper wanna-be on the history, influential figures, and arc of rap in the United States. I’d imagine it was akin to being savaged badly by a duck).

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  2. Poetry is a refined art of the soul, whether it comes with music or with laughter.
    No wordsmith can fail to yearn for it — the sharp brittleness of a knife, or a carcass with all the fat pulled off and away.

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  3. I’ve always been a poor consumer of poetry, too short of attention span and lacking in depth of comprehension I suspect; but Kipling* can still make shake my bones.

    *And yes I know he was a colonialist racist etc…

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  4. Poetry has cadence and meter for the same reason that church has hymns.

    “Shelly…saw poetry as binding the author and the reader with a greater sense of empathy and morality…”

    And what better way to do that than with a shared chant?

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  5. Part of the problem is we expect certain conventions. We expect sentences to have a beginning and an end. We expect a fully fledged noun and verb, an object and a subject. We are so entirely used to reading in the prose form that the formula for writing we are most familiar with looks lopsided and half-bare without all the padding that has comforted us and guided us in more traditional forms of writing.

    I think I understand what you are aiming for here, but this simply isn’t right. Most poetry is constructed of perfectly grammatical sentences. Poetry sometimes employs some unusual syntax (see the Walt Whitman you quote), but all the parts are still there. And the syntax of many poems is bog standard. Take a look at the Langston Hughes poem you quoted. The grammar is utterly unremarkable. The Gwendolyn Brooks poem uses some non-standard grammar, but this is because it uses African-American Vernacular English, not because it is poetry. The only other distinctively “poetic” syntax I see in any of these is the exclamation in the Emily Dickinson. Similarly your introduction to the Hughes has

    Nearly eliminate connecting words, half of the article adjectives, mandatory punctuation, unspecific modifiers…

    But the Hughes has all the connecting words one would expect, and plenty of punctuation–certainly the mandatory bits. Indeed, take the punctuation out and it would be an unintelligible mess. I’m not sure what you mean by “article adjectives.” My guess is you mean what a linguist would call an attributive adjective. Of the nine clauses in the Hughes, four of them have attributive adjectives. This is hardly heavy on the modifiers, but neither is it remarkably light.

    I think what you aiming for is to point out that poetry has some distinctive stylistic conventions that differ from prose, and these take some getting used to. This is a perfectly fair point. It looks to me like you had the commendable intention of being specific about what are these conventions, but missed.

    (Oh, and you characterized Paradise Lost as an anthology. You might want to revisit that.)

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  6. I suppose then there is little hope for people (like me) that don’t listen to music or particularly care for it.

    Unfortunately for poetry as a genre, it’s self-obsession is such that it long ago crawled up its own nether regions in a recursive pattern ending in an endlessly recursive singularity of artistic insularity.

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  7. People don’t like poetry. Publishers reject poetry books because they don’t sell… The problem, in part, is that readers expect understanding to come from the words alone, as they entirely should. But poets, more than a few at least, will write in such a tortured manner as to force their reader to consult the dictionary seven times per paragraph, a history book at least twice, and a compendium of etymologies and literary imagery about infinity times by the end of the chapbook.

    All of this is true, of course, or at least it is to a point. But I think it also bears noting that the poetry/poetry criticism community bears a fair amount of responsibility for its own popular decline over the past 60-70 years. Of all of the various arts communities that I spend time with, I can think of none that spends as much effort both tearing down its own members and being dreadful to casual fans.* It’s what I have come to call the Billy Collins Principle: All poets who begin to find a measure of commercial or critical success must be torn down and disgraced by their peers; all budding fans of poetry who dare try to speak positively about their experience must be immediately mocked and driven from the fold. There’s a little bit of that in all of the arts, of course, but it seems to happen to an incredible (and to an incredibly self-destructive) degree in poetry.

    I enjoy Collins — to take the my principle’s eponymous wordsmith as an example — and find some of his works have a depth that sneaks up on me. But I’d never say that over beers with my friends who are poets/critics. If I’m out with them, I’ve leaned that if we’re going to talk about poetry I need to talk about a Saeed Jones or a Ntozake Shange or a Katherine Larson. For now, anyway. Jones’ nabbing the NBCC award with his first book seems to be taking its toll, and people I know are already beginning to reassess him as a Buzzed token/trifle. Larson also seems likely headed for the long knives after getting near universal accolade a couple of years ago.

    Both Jones and Larson, by the way, are bloody fantastic. Readers who have not yet checked them out absolutely should.

    Here’s one I like from Jones, Boy In a Whalebone Corset:

    The acre of grass is a sleeping
    swarm of locusts, and in the house
    beside it, tears too are mistaken.
    thin streams of kerosene
    when night throws itself against
    the wall, when Nina Simone sings
    in the next room without her body
    and I’m against the wall, bruised
    but out of mine: dream-headed
    with my corset still on, stays
    slightly less tight, bones against
    bones, broken glass on the floor,
    dance steps for a waltz
    with no partner. Father in my room
    looking for more sissy clothes
    to burn. Something pink in his fist,
    negligee, lace, fishnet, whore.
    His son’s a whore this last night
    of Sodom. And the record skips
    and skips and skips. Corset still on,
    nothing else, I’m at the window;
    he’s in the field, gasoline jug,
    hand full of matches, night made
    of locusts, column of smoke
    mistaken for Old Testament God.

    Here’s Larson’s Love at Thrity-Two Degrees:

    I

    Today I dissected a squid,
    the late acacia tossing its pollen
    across the black of the lab bench.
    In a few months the maples
    will be bleeding. That was the thing:
    there was no blood
    only textures of gills creased like satin,
    suction cups as planets in rows. Be careful
    not to cut your finger, he says. But I’m thinking
    of fingertips on my lover’s neck
    last June. Amazing, hearts.
    This brachial heart. After class,
    I stole one from the formaldehyde
    & watched it bloom in my bathroom sink
    between cubes of ice.

    II

    Last night I threw my lab coat in the fire
    & drove all night through the Arizona desert
    with a thermos full of silver tequila.

    It was the last of what we bought
    on our way back from Guadalajara—
    desert wind in the mouth, your mother’s
    beat-up Honda, agaves
    twisting up from the soil
    like the limbs of cephalopods.

    Outside of Tucson, saguaros so lovely
    considering the cold, & the fact that you
    weren’t there to warm me.
    Suddenly drunk I was shouting that I wanted to see the stars
    as my ancestors used to see them—

    to see the godawful blue as Aurvandil’s frostbitten toe.

    III

    Then, there is the astronomer’s wife
    ascending stairs to her bed.

    The astronomer gazes out,
    one eye at a time,

    to a sky that expands
    even as it falls apart

    like a paper boat dissolving in bilge.
    Furious, fuming stars.

    When his migraine builds &
    lodges its dark anchor behind

    the eyes, he fastens the wooden buttons
    of his jacket, & walks

    outside with a flashlight
    to keep company with the barn owl

    who stares back at him with eyes
    that are no greater or less than

    a spiral galaxy.
    The snow outside

    is white & quiet
    as a woman’s slip

    against cracked floorboards.
    So he walks to the house

    inflamed by moonlight, & slips
    into the bed with his wife

    her hair & arms all
    in disarray

    like fish confused by waves.

    IV

    Science—

    beyond pheromones, hormones, aesthetics of bone,
    every time I make love for love’s sake alone,

    I betray you.

    * (I should also note that while the world of poetry is brutally self-destructive, it is also weirdly, wildly, colorfully so. I have a half-written post on the wars waged in the British National Poetry Society in the 1970s that I really need to finish one of these days.)

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    • In support of this, about ten years ago, Garrison Keillor published a poetry anthology. My recollection is that the poetry crowd dismissed it as hopelessly middle brow. I haven’t read the book, but my suspicion is that this is entirely spot on. But so what? A sensible approach would be to regard Keillor’s celebrity backing a book like this as a marketing opportunity for the whole community. Use the book as an entry drug to get more people hooked. Hinting instead that anyone who enjoys this book probably also has a painting on velvet of Elvis, or perhaps dogs playing poker, simply confirms everyone’s prejudices. FWIW, I see on Amazon that Keillor now has several of these books out. I doubt that Keillor has the pull to get them published if they weren’t making money.

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      • NPR was interviewing a composer and the composer was talking about a recent period in which his music was mocked because it wasn’t atonal. The exciting artists were pursuing atonality and he was being almost comically retro in his compositions.

        I try not to mock “atonal” when I talk about it (insert line about how one of my favorite albums ever is atonal here) but the occasional surge in love for the atonal shown by the smart set makes my middlebrow gorge rise.

        There is so very much an attitude of a thing being good because of who does (and who does not) appreciate it rather than a thing being appreciated because of (list reasons having to do with the thing itself here).

        And that’s just effed up whether it happen in music, in poetry, in film, in theater, in video games, in culinary art, in sculpture, in…

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  8. THE ANARCHIST

    Let me manage this mischief with my two wrong feet
    Bright miser’s eyes
    Light, twiddling fingers

    I was born to break pencils and shake foundations
    To tune the wise words out
    Listen to my furiously beating heart

    I was born to look away from the sun when it rises
    Big brother watching me
    The straw in a stack of needles

    Sucking up the silence like they guzzle up your life
    And tie you in a bundle of paper notes
    They make you happier than freedom ever will

    I was born to shed my wings and slither into my snakeskin
    Watch the world crumble
    Like chocolate biscuits

    I clench my fists the crumbs crumble through the white knuckles
    And watch as you nod along
    Write between the lines

    I was born so I could die on a cross with its head lobbed off
    Stand in the rain
    And bleed into the gutter

    I was born to be a rebel and scream into the silence
    Burst into light
    Trace the contours of eternity

    I am the boy in the hoodie I am the roller
    I break apart on the road
    And the cars peck at me

    I am a fool in a world of sensible men
    With sensible rules
    I am the idealist

    I am the anarchist
    I was born to die
    On the altar
    of progress.

    EMMA TOBIN

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