the big O
I just sent an e-mail to Oprah asking her to please include a book of poetry as a selection for her book club. If anyone can turn people on to poetry, it's Oprah!
The thing is, Oprah reads poetry. She loves Maya Angelou, who in addition to writing fiction, writes poerty. In fact Angelou might be the closest thing America has to a "public poet" these days. She did read a poem at an inauguration and she's probably the only living poet many Americans could name. Oprah also lists the bible as one of her favorite books, and of course much of the bible is poetry.
After the attacks of September 11, the media momentarily included poetry in its commentary. W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939" was read and re-read. And then there was the boycott and consequential uproar stoked by Sam Hammill. The anthology of poetry that he edited, Poets Against the War (also a website), is one of the few recent books of poetry to have decent shelf sales outside of a university book store.
I know many cultured, intelligent people who keep up with the latest trends in movies and music and literature, and even among them there isn't a whole lot of poetry reading. At times I've wondered if people are intimidated by poetry, or have this idea that there is a "right" and "wrong" way to read poetry -- that the whole point of poetry is to unlock some "hidden meaning."
The thing is that most of us enjoy poetry in song lyrics and would be unable deny the obvious pleasure most children take in nursery rhymes. And poetry seems like the perfect genre of literature for the MTV generation. I should point out here that I'm not talking about performance (i.e. "Def Jam") poetry. This type of poetry has grown in popularity. I guess I'm wondering why this hasn't gotten more Americans to read poetry.
Many poems are short, but really really pack a punch. Here are two of my favorite little poems.
"You Fit Into Me"
by Margaret Atwood
You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
A fish hook
An open eye
"In the Desert"
by Stephen Crane
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter--bitter," he answered;"
But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."
To her credit, Oprah had Jewel on many moons ago when she was promoting her book of poetry. We just don't care for Jewel's poetry.
Anyway, do you have a favorite little (1o lines or less) poem? Let's develop a poetry anthology for Oprah! And while we're at it, let's send a copy to Jessica, Britney (a poet!), Beyonce, and Madonna!
Remember, poetry is the new kabbalah!