On January 22nd, Alexandra Petri (who, according to her Twitter is a “Daily topical humor blogger”) claimed that “There are about six people who buy new poetry,” in her Washington Post piece, “Is Poetry Dead?” a day Richard Blanco read his poem, “One Today,” at the presidential inauguration. While Petri was supposedly trying to be funny, the 408 comments, and 5.7 thousand Facebook “Likes,” however, showed us people still have a good deal to say about poetry, and that calling the form dead was unfunny and unfounded.
More proof that poetry isn’t dead, and that it can still stir the masses came last night as Amanda Palmer, who makes more news for raising a lot of money from her fans and then not paying musicians, than she does for actually making music, released “A Poem For Dzhokhar” on her website. The poem is, well, for suspected Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and contains lines like “you don’t know how little you’ve been paying attention until you look down at your legs again,” and “you don’t know how many vietnamese soft rolls to order.” Reading the entire thing in dramatic fashion led me to believe that we may have finally found an example of a musician writing poetry that is even worse than Jewel’s 1998 book of poems, A Night Without Armor.
But the most staggering thing to somebody who might not care to pay that much attention to Ms. Palmer, her music, her various exploits, or the fact that her call for donations to fuel her own career that sits below the poem looks bigger than the one asking to support One Fund Boston, is the way in which her fans got behind the piece. One commenter, “Tanya Speed” proclaiming that “This should be in literary journals,” while another said that, “Poetry isn’t journalism, but it doesn’t exist in an apolitical vacuum. Poetry has been used to valorize war, justify repressive states, and as propaganda just as it’s been used as a protest/activism tool. So, certainly poetry isn’t inherently factual, and is based on imagination, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no moral or philosophical implications to using a current event like this to produce a particular emotional response.”
What struck me about all this conversation about what was really just an example of awful poetry, is that it comes almost a year to the day when we had another big conversation about poetry, when Nobel Prize poet Günter Grass found himself banned from Israel for writing a poem that spoke out against the country. I made a joke last year that at least the controversy got people talking about poetry again, and this year as we wind down National Poetry Month, I’m going to revisit that statement, but I’ll also add, “Amanda Palmer has us talking about it? Really?”