What is it about celebrity poets that rile “serious” writers of poetry? With each new collection of poems by an actor or music recording star, envy mounts as does the high levels of indifference by poets and critics, alike. Such books of poetry are roundly dismissed and ignored by the literati, yet inevitably become bestsellers owing to the legions of adoring fans that seem to have an interminable appetite for mediocre verse. Rest assured, such books do not attract prize committees and are rarely reviewed outside of Publishers Weekly or Booklist. One would think, also, given the stratospheric mega-sales, these books would appear on the poetryfoundations.org bestseller lists. Alas, there too, ignored.
Although celebrity poets seem to be double-dipping in their attempts to elevate themselves from pop-icons to literary luminaries, and although their poetry at times seems vapid and artless (read Leonard Nimoy’s aka Dr. Spock’s love poem below), and although we know their books are part of a package deal contract between their lawyers, media agents, and publishers, I appreciate the visibility and import they bring to audiences of readers who might not normally buy volumes of poetry. They just might even be fighting back the trend of dwindling readerships, helping in the cause of increasing literacy among the youth.
Do their poems advance the art of poetry? Probably not, but they also do not poison the meal. Although it might be unfair to grant them admission into the country club dining room, they have as much a right to creatively express themselves as the next guy and more to share their musings between the hardcovers on love, life, and lost dogs. (Check out Jimmy Stewart reading a poem about his dog Beau on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1981.)