Good poetry, bad poetry, and something in between

Are these poems at the level of Emily Dickinson or Langston Hughes, two of the writers whose work was supposed to be read at the White House earlier this month? Of course not. Then again, Dickinson's juvenilia is pretty painful, too. Here's an excerpt from a valentine she wrote when she was 20: "Oh the Earth was made for lovers, for damsel, and hopeless swain,/ For sighing, and gentle whispering, and unity made of twain." Ugh.

There are pieces in Paint Me Like I Am that are no good. Yet as Nikki Giovanni writes in her foreword: "We need poetry .../ We deserve poetry." I'd argue that we need good poetry, that we deserve good poetry -- but in the end, it's the freedom to decide which is which that makes the difference. Good thing we live in poetic times.

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