Saturday, April 18, 2015
Inch Fifty-Nine: On Poetry
This year I am celebrating by posting a poem or poem fragment a day on Facebook. Some days are dedicated to friends and family: "The Art of Disappearing" by Naomi Shihab Nye for my friend Margo, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats for my friend David, "Arithmetic" by Carl Sandburg for Sam, "in Just-" by E. E. Cummings for Ben. And some days I have posted advertising campaigns that used poetry excerpts brilliantly: this one by AIG (T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock") and this one by Xbox One ("Invictus" by William Ernest Henley).
So many poems, so little time.
I am married to a poetry adverse individual, a pronounced flaw in an otherwise wonderful man. It is one I am willing to overlook because Warren and I are so well-suited in so many other fundamental and essential ways, but I look at him and wonder "what teacher at what grade did you in?" (Listening to his recitation of English teachers from junior high on, I'm pretty sure I know who the culprit was.)
Poetry, like music, like art, is in fair danger of disappearing entirely from our schools. While Ohio's Model Learning Standards for Language Arts pay lip service to poetry, the reality is that poetry is being eradicated line by line from many school curriculums, not by choice but out of necessity. There is no time or place for the luxury of poetry. It is a frill that does not fit neatly into our standardized test world of modern education, and, as students, parents, and teachers alike will confirm, we are teaching to the test. Small wonder that when a number of teenagers broke into and vandalized Robert Frost's farmhouse in December, 2007, few of the offenders knew who Robert Frost was.
The Gradgrinds of the world would approve of eliminating poetry in its entirety. They adopt as their mission their founder's famous words: "Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else...Stick to Facts, Sir!"
It is that kind of inside-the-very-narrow-box thinking that I rebel against. It is that attitude that makes me look forward to every April, when thousands of us across the land wave the bright flag of Poetry wide and high. (Thank you, Robert Hunter, poet deluxe.)
A world without poetry would be an empty and bleak world indeed. Warren may say he disagrees, but when the poetry goes, so do the song lyrics, including his beloved Emerson Lake & Palmer.
The Academy of American Poets (the driving force behind National Poetry Month) has designated this April 30 as Poem in Your Pocket Day. (The day varies each year, but not the sentiment behind it.) Mark it on your calendar now so you don't miss it.
The world needs every poem it can get.