Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Martin J. Farawell
Dear Editor,

To ask, as August Kleinzahler does, "are we not yet adult enough as a culture to acknowledge that the arts are not for everyone, and that bad art is worse than no art," ignores that most art is bad art. Even if we wanted to, how could we stop bad art or bad poetry? Shut down creative-writing programs? Unplug all the open mics? Are we going to pretend that bad poetry is a contemporary phenomenon? For centuries, upper-class ladies and gentlemen passed among their friends little hand-sewn pamphlets of their poems. Reading them aloud to each other was a common form of entertainment (the precursor of our poetry circles and local writers' groups). This tradition produced only one Emily Dickinson.

We may not share Garrison Keillor's taste in poetry, but do we really believe that no poetry on the radio is preferable to The Writer's Almanac? A few minutes of airtime given to acknowledging writers and poets is a bad thing for literature and culture? With everything else that conspires against introspection, are we going to blame the increase in poetry's presence in popular culture for the lack of attentive and thoughtful readers?

Many of us who care deeply about poetry first came to it through poems we would now consider bad art. Some of us were lucky enough to have teachers who, instead of pointing out our lack of sophistication, pointed us toward other, better poets we might like. If, as a result of hearing Keillor on the radio, Good Poems is the first poetry anthology someone buys, would that be so terrible?

Milford, Pennsylvania

Originally Published: October 30, 2005

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This prose originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Poetry magazine

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