Monday, May 16, 2005

Oprah reads Poetry

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.

For example:

"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!


Andrew said...

Don't forget Suzanne Somers and Ally Sheedy--they've both published multiple books!

In all seriousness, though, I think that's an awesome idea. If anyone can get the country turned on to poetry again, it's Oprah. Maybe she could get some of her favorite A-List celebrity friends to choose their favorite poems and then come on the show and read them. I could see a whole craze starting.

Jenny said...

Sadly, it seems that if Oprah were to bring poetry into the spotlight a whole lot of authors would wince at the thought of their poems being "Oprah poems," just the Jonathan Franzen fiasco. (I'd actually love to hear what you both had to say on that matter. I think it's a really interesting tension, but I'm so freakin' inarticulate these days.)

Poems, poems. Remember that Atwood poem called, "This is a Photograph of Me?" I used to love that one.

Jenny said...
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femme feral said...

You know, that whole Franzen thing was so sad. What a snob.

I think literature, poetry in particular, has suffered from a sort of sequestered elitism, largely as a result of being *less* public.

I also think it's that its a shame that magazines for young people (like seventeen) no longer run poetry.

Props to weeklies like Baltimore's City Paper for continuing to publish poetry.

Jenny said...

Yeah, you're right about the Seventeen thing. Kids really are a ready market for poetry--they like it early on when it rhymes and is kind of sing-songy and they like it in their teens when it helps them to express how shitty they feel. If that appreciation were cultivated to a greater extent, then likely poets would have larger reading audiences.