Poetry News

Coldfront's Open Letter to Washington Post Poetry Lover Alexandra Petri

By Harriet Staff

We just pointed you to Alexandra Petri's Washington Post editorial that poetry is dead. "News" travels fast, and upon waking this afternoon, we see that Coldfront's John Deming has written an open letter to Petri in response. He's got his own specific viewpoint, of course: "A requirement of political change is too much to ask of any artist." But Deming also talks about poetry's vitality for the life of the mind; and gives examples:

You claim poetry isn’t “vital.” I will try to explain. A sponge and dish soap are vital to me because they make change in the kitchen. To me, at least, poetry is vital because it has a similar effect on the life of my mind. Robert Frost, who read at JFK’s inauguration, once said that a good poem “ends in a clarification of life–not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.” Frost never enacted legislation. But he continues to provide clarity. Poetry is very helpful to people for whom superstition is not enough.

More than 2,000 books of poetry are published each year in the U.S. But how many of these did you account for before making your harsh judgments? Have you read Timothy Donnelly? Anne Carson? D.A. Powell? Rae Armantrout? Dana Levin? Nathaniel Mackey? That’s off the top of my head. Here are forty from last year alone. And thirty from the year before that. And the year before that. I could go on.

Poetry changes things every day for many thousands of people in this country. (You claim “six.” I guess that is a “joke.”) So many of these poets are devoted not only to their craft, but to publishing magazines, to starting presses, to finding their way in a thriving, diverse, multifaceted, multi-talented, international community. You say contemporary poetry “is a limp and fangless thing.” Have you read Skin Inc.? Our Andromeda? Black Box? Fragment of the Head of a Queen? The Glimmering Room? Angle of Yaw? Unless these are the kinds of fangs you have in mind, in which case, I’m sure I could drum somebody up for that too.

Deming also defends Richard Blanco. Read the full letter at Coldfront.