The worst way to defeat a social or cultural ill is to declare war on it. The U.S. declares war on problems it can’t or won’t solve.
The worst way to foster a social or cultural good is to declare a recurring calendar date for it. Doing so acknowledges a thing to be perennially moribund.
So this April is the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Month. Margaret Renkl writes:
Many Americans… feel they can get along just fine without poetry. But tragedy… can change their minds about that… The poets are forever telling us to look for this kind of peace, to stuff ourselves with sweetness, to fill ourselves up with loveliness.
(Margaret Renkl, “Thank God for the Poets,” NYTimes, 5-5-21)
Bless her heart, she means well, as we say in the South. I’m sure you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when National Poetry Month was declared. I don’t.
Poetry is a curious hubbub kicked up by a tiny few, noticed if at all by a tiny few more. Oblivion is guaranteed, and have a nice minute. Poetry’s for that. “I am not resigned,” says Edna St. Vincent Millay from the grave. Good luck with that, Ms. Millay. This world will flame out by and by. Poetry’s for that.
I simply can’t express, other than with petulance, what a downer to the impulse towards poetry a pious paean to it such as Ms. Renkl’s well-intentioned one can be.
My conviction and hope is that, if poetry lands a blow at all, it’s as much to fuck me up in my complacent brine and set me back on my heels as to nurse me through my godawful present or penultimate moments. There’s no way anyone under the age of ancient will bother to look at it if it’s in order merely to gorge on putative gobs of goodness.
Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural poem did what it had to do, which was to put a scrappy, uplifting vibe on a happy occasion. Ms. Gorman, after all, intends to run for president. The launch will stand her in good stead failing some reversal of fortune. I hope to have a chance to vote for her. The last president-poet we had was Lincoln. Perhaps we could use another. Will my grandkids revere “The Hill We Climb” like I revere the Gettysburg Address? Doubt springs eternal.
But back to National Poetry Month: don’t forget to thank the Devil for it.
(c) 2021 JMN