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What are some creative ways to promote poetry?
In the Spring issue of American Poet (put out by the Academy of American Poets) Lyn Hejinian gave an interesting answer to what is by now (especially around these offices) a rote question. She was asked, “What are some creative ways to promote poetry?” to which she responded:
Poetry doesn’t need promotion. People need time. A revolutionary way to promote poetry might be to criminalize capitalism’s theft of people’s time.
It’s an answer that brings to bear the issue of poetry’s place in our wider culture and one which raises lots of terrific questions. Should poetry be something that is sold to consumers just as any other product, or is it indeed something special, something that carves out space in our daily lives, apart from all the buying and selling that seems to occupy us today?
It’s interesting to look at the answers provided by Sharon Olds and Carl Phillips, who were both offered the same question as Hejinian. Olds points to outreach workshops in schools, prisons, etc. as a way to promote poetry, while Phillips notes that poetry should be taught to the young. Both seem to push the “poetry as product” angle. Are these types of answers incommensurable with Hejinian’s push for a more dramatic shift in our society? Or can one attempt to apply both? I’d like to think we can.
With its focus on teaching poetry to people living in marginalized situations (in the hospital, in prison) Olds’s (and to a lesser degree Phillips’s) answer offers a way to have poetry itself apply pressure for the type of cultural change favored by Hejinian. The hope is then that such cultural pressure would not only uplift those who are currently marginalized, but also create an alternative to the ever-present capitalist culture.
Hejinian’s position is especially notable in that it calls on us to not only look for some way to convince the public at large of the value of poetry, but also modify our culture so that it is able to sustain something, such as poetry, separate from the circulation of capital.