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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

03 August, 2004

Poetry and commercialism

John Barr, former Wall Street investment banker (oh yes, also president of the Poetry Foundation and author of six books of poetry) was interviewed by Poets&Writers. Some extracts:
It doesn’t feel like we’re in a golden age of poetry right now. Poetry is surviving partly through the dedication of readers who have found it and go to it for the right reasons [and] partly because it’s managed to find ways to exist in the academic world and in the arts funding world.
To me poetry is written out of the extremes of a person’s life—the extreme moments, high or low. And it's what people go to—the readers—in the extremes of their lives. I think poetry’s golden age will come when it is in front of a general audience, when people know to go to it when they need it. I’m not sure they go to it when they need it right now.
I think it’s a healthy thing for poets to have a real audience of readers as opposed to just each other at workshop.
Poetry needs to be about communication, not just self-expression. And communication—whether it’s the next poet over in the workshop or it’s somebody you don’t know who’s never read a poem before—includes a desire to be understood, not just to express yourself.
I think a poet always implies his audience and that audience implied should not be a poet, it should be somebody else, whoever it is. I think there is more conscious work that can be done by writers generally to reflect, embody, and digest a bigger body of experience and work that through into their own work. My example is Ernest Hemingway. In 1933 he took his first safari ... he shot lions and went home and wrote about it: The Snows of Kilamanjaro, "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber," True at First Light, an unfinished novel. I don’t know of a lot of poets who do that.
Somehow, I think unconsciously, poets have inherited the attitude that they are going to wait for the muse to come to them, that they’re going to wait for the lightning to strike, that they are in effect passive witnesses of what is around them. This shows up in academia where you get poems about writing poems.
[link via Wanderlust]