Sunday, March 19, 2006

Snow White, Salemi

Changing Dwarfs To Johns: Making Poetry Interesting Again


Dr. Joseph S. Salemi
Department of Classics, Hunter College, C.U.N.Y.

Poetry became self-sequestered and masturbatory. You got that stereotypical icon of the poetry world: the neurotic little nerd at the podium, mumbling something cryptic about his alienation from the universe.

The second thing that happened was even worse. Poetry became prim and proper. Because it had arrogated to itself a self-contained and hieratic aloofness, it all of a sudden stopped being boisterous and funny. That horrible disease that I have elsewhere called "Portentous Hush" began to infect the art, so much so that whenever people hear the word poetry they immediately think of something tediously lugubrious. They don't think of jokes, or spoofs, or parodies, or insults, or just plain old roistering fun. Poets themselves dismiss such comic stuff as "light verse," with a supercilious disdain. Genuine poetry (so the orthodoxy goes) is supposed to be something serious and good for you, like a Sunday School sermon or a laxative. The result was predictable. The general audience for poetry just melted away en masse, like the Russian Army in 1917.


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