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Friday, December 18, 2009

Project Poetry


Stephen Burt of the Poetry Foundation writes that “Project Runway," a popular cable TV show, holds lessons for poetry critics. Burt is not alone. Ron Silliman who has been writing on poetry for years thinks the show does a better job of showing creative people “being creative” than any television show ever. While such a view is subjective, there are few people who follow the creative cultural influences around us more closely than Silliman. Read his blog for a few months and you will see he isn’t missing much that goes on.

So on a morning drive into the city, my wife and daughter in tow, the subject turns to the idea of a poetry version of the popular show. I’m doing my best impersonation of Tim Gunn, the advisor who periodically checks in with the designers to offer kudos or a bit of cautionary advice as the case may be. “Ah, what have we got going on here, a Sestina; nice job. The envoi really works!” Shannon is not exactly feeling the excitement. “What, we are going to watch, segments of people hunched over paper with a pen?” Cathy joins in the discussion, “What would they be working towards, a chap-book?” I counter, “No, it has to be better than that, a book contract with someone like Faber & Faber or Farrar Straus & Giroux. I explain the cameras can follow the poets out into the world on outings… a gallery, a music performance, a scenic stroll or urban bustle and the poet would be talking about what they are seeing and feeling – then back to their journals and laptops for rewrite after rewrite. I think they are starting to see this and Cathy says, “Oh the best part would be the emotional drama when one poet is cut from the show.” Shannon counters, “No, no… the enormous joy and relief of the family getting rid of… err, I mean seeing the poet off to compete!” I quietly think, they are so not getting this.”
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