Does Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Matter?

Maybe this is old news, but I came across a link via Poetry Magazine’s editor Don Share, who posted an article from The Awl on Facebook yesterday. Last summer Poetry published an essay in which Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (Will Oldham) shared a traumatic childhood experience with a Shakespeare sonnet:

Unfortunately, the full sonnet made no sense to me, and even that quoted couplet became scrambled and indecipherable without the guidance of a critic to give it meaning—because it is poetry, and poetry is something that points to something else.

So there.

Oldham goes on to say that “a poem holds nothing up and nothing in. It sits there. And in a public space, a read poem fills the air with signs that I cannot use to direct myself anywhere except the restroom or the sidewalk, or inside of myself.”

I get annoyed when people who don’t read poetry, who don’t make poetry a regular part of their lives, feel they’re qualified to pass judgement on the whole genre. It happens all the time, of course, like in this article from the Washington Post.

I like Oldham’s music, though a friend told me not to let my daughters listen to it because he said that the lyrics are all about blow jobs. I never really listened that closely to notice.

The post in The Awl, by Vogue contributing editor Robert Sullivan, goes on to discuss a Dick Cavett show featuring Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer and then the author’s fist fight with Henry Goodfriend. See, that’s what discussions of poetry do.

Of course it’s important to remember the dangers involved. Many lives were lost during the Difficult Poem Uprising of 1912, as Charles Bernstein discusses in this essay.

Sullivan’s full article here. 

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