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Does poetry need its own Glee?

By Harriet Staff

On The Moderate Voice, Michael Silverstein proposes an unusual solution to restoring the place of poetry in civic discourse. The problem isn’t with poetry itself, rather the medium for delivering it to the masses. Silverstein has had it with the Op Ed pages of newspapers which are now as overrun with “spin doctoring” and “hype” as any other popular venue.

Percy Shelley called poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” which at various times and in many places they truly were. Robert Frost said “poetry is a way of taking life by the throat,” and also opined that “poetry is the best possible way of saying almost anything,” Both these views are also certainly true. Which raises this question: In America today, why doesn’t poetry exercise its power to shape legislation, grab more lives by the throat, and be recognized as the best possible way to say so many things?

Though television might seem like the furthest format from hype, Silverstein points out the effect that Glee has had in shining the spotlight on another cultural outsider: the show-tune loving glee club member. Not only has it brought attention to “a long unpopular high school backwater,” it’s done so while examining the educational system and taboo (though common) social issues, making it a hugely popular carrier of messages that wouldn’t otherwise find a popular audience. And so, without further ado, here’s the pitch for Michael Silverstein’s Rhyme:

Take a half dozen [kids], each an updated version of a great poet past — like a seemingly simple working man with religious poetic visions (Blake); a very plain looking homebody who everyone ignores until she hesitantly recites her poetry (Dickinson); an experience hungry self-promoter who has traveled everywhere in America and been touched by everything he’s seen (Whitman); an angry howler against a society he thinks has gone totally nuts (Ginsberg); a hedonistic pleasure seeker (St. Vincent Millay).

Let the lives and works of a group like this play out separately and against each other — the way it does on “Glee.” These poets would not expect fame and certainly not fortune from their art, of course, they just can’t seem to stop loving words. Throw in contests that could actually generate money (slams), and more commonplace readings where the pain flows freely when the readers outnumber the audience. Keep the project out of the hands of academics.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, January 13th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.