Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The poet - "one who writes in measure," as Johnson laconically defines him - and poetess ("a she poet") have always had a rough time of it in the Republic. It has ever been their endemic luck to starve, become a Harvard professor, commit suicide, lose their reading glasses before an audience of sophomores, go upon the people à la Barnum, and serve as homework in state universities, where they could in nowise get a position and where their presence usually scatters the English faculty like a truant officer among the Amish. But the very worst has happened to him, and in the last couple of decades. It has been forgotten in high places what he is, and every school child is taught the most godawful rot as to why he writes as he does in measure.
    The things of the world are always at one's doorstep; the miseries of the American poet were nicely defined while I was on my errands this morning deep in Kentucky. At the grocer's, as I was throwing Time into my cart, a lady broke into a motherly smile. "Thar you go," she said, "buyin' th' magerzine book of your choice for the month: ain't it grand to read?" It was at the local paperback emporium that a teen-ager, obviously a time-server in summer school, asked for "a poem book on E.E. Cummings." The lady admirer of literacy is a guitarist and sings "Great Speckled Bird" and "The Murder of James A. Garfield" on the radio. She is, in her way, a poet: and one of the things utterly forgotten about poets is that they come in hierarchies and orders.

- Guy Davenport
"Do You Have a Poem Book on E.E. Cummings?"
from The Geography of the Imagination

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