Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Daniel Brett Clendening

Dear Editor,

I’m very much your “average Joe.” No college degree, wife and kids, career in business, house in the suburbs, etc. I enjoy poetry and always have. I suppose I’m one of the “declining few.” I’m a new subscriber and have been enjoying your publication very much.

However, reading Durs Grünbein’s “Why Live Without Writing” [February 2010] reminded me of how I feel when listening to jazz: I’m simply not musically sophisticated enough to appreciate it. I’ve waded through the essay three times now, thinking, “Well, maybe this is satire, and I’m just so far below Grünbein’s level that I don’t get it.” So, after that honest admission, I have to ask: Is this guy for real? He comes across as pretty pompous.

Question number one: “Can you really live off it?” Response: “(the question is) the slightly sneering imputation of a low motive that even the poet-fantasist daren’t go too far away from without risking a stumble.” And even worse: “the question is a conscious and malicious comment on that flamingo or ostrich position.” Holy cow. Has Grünbein never considered simple, unadorned curiosity? Most of us poor slobs out here actually have to work for a living, and we’re genuinely curious about how others make a go of writing.

Question number two: “How long have you been writing?” Response (among the many marvels of arrogance): “Really, the only good thing about the question is its undertone of yearning.” Believe it or not, Durs, most of us have a pretty good general sense of what it takes to be a butcher or physician, but we’re mostly clueless about how long it might take to develop the skills to become an accomplished poet, and we’d genuinely like to know.

Question number three: “Why do you write?” Response: “It’s a typical child’s question.” Or better yet: “What he completely fails to see are the joys of production.” What Grünbein completely fails to see is that anyone other than a “real poet” might also have a yearning to write, and that we also yearn to understand the roots of this motivation.

It is precisely Grünbein’s stereotypical, condescending attitude that contributes to the decline in interest in poetry for us “average Joes,” but I suspect that would not concern him in the slightest.

griffin, georgia

Originally Published: April 1, 2010

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This prose originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2010

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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