More Things I Hate About National Poetry Month

Once again I’m torn over National Poetry Month. Obviously I like poetry. I guess I’d like more people to like it too, to appreciate it as much as they appreciate The Hunger Games or Toddlers and Tiaras, but I know that’s not going to happen. Every year NPM comes along to remind the public that poetry didn’t stop with their 8th grade English class assignment to interpret  a Robert Frost poem or write a haiku about spring.  I’m sure National GeoCashe Month is a bigger deal to most people, but what the hell, might as well embrace it right?

Right, until we were tortured last year by Oprah’s poetry issue of O magazine.

While I’m thankful that April is usually filled with more readings (and the beginning of trout season) and poetry events (I’m doing several myself this month), I always feel that NPM has a way of trivializing poetry, making it seem more quaint and oddball, reinforcing the public’s perception that poetry is best left to greeting cards.

NPM gives TV, radio and web editorial planners something to plan around. They look for poetry story angles that will connect it to a wider audience, but they treat it as more of a curiosity, like a two-headed calf at the farm show, but not something most thinking people actually want in their homes. During the month of April poets get treated only slightly better than Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog’s Day—we get pulled out of our dark holes and shaken in front of a crowd, only to be shoved back in before we get the chance to say much.

So here’s a short roundup of some of the awfulness this year’s National Poetry Month is subjecting us to (please feel free to add to this list:

  • Major news outlets feeling compelled to post poetry-related items like

Mitt Romney’s Poetry

Can Oprah Save Poetry?

It’s really easy to hate this—the O (for Oprah) magazine poetry issue. I mean, Oprah! A huge American symbol of commercial money shallowness–or an inspiration to millions (take your pick). She lives an opulent lifestyle, hosts consumer fests every week on her show (well, maybe not anymore). At the same time, she does some really, really, good things—started a girls’ school in Africa and supports dozens of worthwhile causes with all that empire money.  And of course, she named a magazine after herself. How humble is that?

But then I heard the April issue of her O magazine was going to focus on poetry, with celebrities talking about their favorite poems and the guest editor role being taken by Maria Shriver, a very accomplished broadcast journalist, but no literary cred to speak of.

My first though: This is what I hate about National Poetry Month.

My second thought: Well, if anyone is able to make poetry not seem like an affectation done only by depressed Goths, NYC hipsters, adjunct professors and dreamy high school girls, then maybe it’s Oprah. Maybe she can.

And then I saw:

Oprah Poetry siteAnd this:

Oprah PoetryYes, friends, there’s a link to a page on “How to Write Poetry” with suggestions such as: write down a dream; write down a forbidden thought; write down an aphorism … In fact, there’s a whole section of Oprah’s site called Oprah’s Writing Center.

By now my thoughts have turned to: Why can’t she just leave poetry alone? Does the world need Oprah to explain the best sandwiches for a poetry party (apparently it’s po’ boys)?

Sure, I did learn a few things from Oprah’s poetry experiment. Demi Moore reads Tennyson. Bono is a Seamus Heany fan (predictable). General David Petraeus tries to live acording to Kipling’s “If.” Ashton Kutcher’s father wrote poetry,  and Mike Tyson draws inspiration from these anonymous lines: “Stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit / It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”

Mike, it’s time to quit.