Heavy Traffic

Why poetry still matters

Even on a national level, the form's getting some respect (despite two jokey political books, Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld, scarily brilliant as it is, and Obliviously on He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme, silly doggerel from Calvin Trillin). The new U.S. poet laureate, Ted Kooser, is a plain-spoken former insurance salesman (like the much more famous Wallace Stevens) who doesn't pay much heed to literary fashions. In a recent interview in the New York Times Magazine, he defended his choice of what the interviewer, Deborah Solomon, called "quotidian pleasures": "Poetry can enrich everyday experience," he said, "making our ordinary world seem quite magical and special." (He also had a smart response to Solomon's stupid question about why he's not "better acquainted with European poetry": "Think of all the European poetry I could have read if we hadn't spent all this time on this interview." Take that, snob.)

Elizabeth Treadwell Jackson, SPT's 
executive director, curates readings, 
maintains the archive, and edits the 
newsletter, Traffic.
Paul Jackson
Elizabeth Treadwell Jackson, SPT's executive director, curates readings, maintains the archive, and edits the newsletter, Traffic.

The point is, poetry isn't something removed from daily life. It's of, by, and for daily life. When it's good, it takes up the world around us and distills it to a perfect moment, in language so sharp it can cut the air. Kooser is right: You don't have to do a lot of background reading to understand it. Just show up at an SPT event and keep your ears open.

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