Sunday, September 03, 2006

AWP Is Taking On The Poetry Foundation

AWP is taking on The Poetry Foundation. This time it’s personal!

The following is a message to all poets from AWP:


The following excerpt is from the September, 2006 issue of POETRY, ''American Poetry in the New Century,'' by John Barr, President of the Poetry Foundation and investment banker for SG Barr Devlin:

''More than a decade ago, Dana Gioia recognized poetry's disjunction from public life, in his seminal essay, ŒCan Poetry Matter?¹ The question still pertains. Lacking a general audience, poets still write for one another. (Witness the growth of writing workshops and the MFA program.)Because the book-buying public does not buy their work, at least not in commercial quantities, they cannot support themselves as writers. So they teach. But an academic life removes them yet further from a general audience. Each year, MFA programs graduate thousand of students who have been trained to think of poetry as a career, and to think poetry has something to do with credentials. The effect of these programs on the artform is to increase the abundance of poetry, but to limit its variety. The result is a poetry that is neither robust, resonant, nor---and I stress this quality---entertaining; a poetry that both starves and flourishes on academic subsides.

''Not surprisingly, poetry has a morale problem. A few years ago I read a review, in the Sunday Times, of three books of poetry. One was about the agonies of old age, one about bombed-out Ireland, one about the poet's dead father. The question arises: how does one rouse an entire art form out of a bad mood? Of course the tragic has a place in poetry. Indeed one of poetry's jobs is to descant on the worst that life can hand us. As Yeats said, let 'soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress.' But art should not be only about malfunction. Poetry need not come only from impairment. To the extent it does, it makes for a poetry that is monotonic---mono-moodic, if you will. . . . Poetry's limitations today come not from failures of craft (the MFA programs attend to that) but from afflictions of spirit. American poetry has yet to produce its Mark Twain.

''The combined effects of public neglect and careerism, then, are intellectual and spiritual stagnation in the art form. Although poets pride themselves on their independence, when did you last read a poem whose political vision truly surprised or challenged you? Attitude has replaced intellect.''

Clearly, Mr. Barr needs some cheering up. Send your favorite, humorous contemporary poem to:

The President
Poetry Foundation
444 North Michigan Ave., Suite 1850
Chicago, IL 60611

Thank you for supporting AWP.


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