Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who Reads Poetry?-Part II and Ted Greenwald Interview

(photo of Ted Greenwald)

Who Reads Poetry - Part II

In the previous edition of our "Poetry Venue," we began attempting to answer the question "Aside from poets, who reads poetry." You can read that article beneath the one at hand. Readers have weighed in with the following gems,

Don Wentworth, Editor of the award-winning Lilliput Review weighed in:

Recently, at the ripe old age of 56, I had the experience of teaching poetry for the first time. It was to a class of lifelong learners. Something drew them to sign up, caused an interest, from mild curiosity to some vague nostalgia or something else. It's the something else I'm particularly interested in.
Folks who don't normally read poetry seem drawn to it particularly in times of crisis, in times when we turn to ritual. Births, weddings, funerals. Poetry resonates in a way in these situations for folks that it doesn't in their normal everyday lives: in times of remembrance, celebration, and grief. It is as if during these times people are in touch with something else in their lives they don't normally see but is there all the time, all the same. It is almost like another life.
That is what most poetry readers are trying to do all the time: to get in and stay in touch with that "otherness." It is the constant remembrance that we are going to die, that there is sorrow and love and pain and beauty. Perhaps, in the average life, this is too hard to face all the time, which is why people don't generally read poetry, but nonetheless always say they wish they had time to read more, they respect those who read and write poetry, and they wish they understood poetry better (don't we all!).
So for me the question is not "who reads poetry" but "why read poetry." To quote the Bard of our generation, "it's life and life only." Don Wentworth, Lilliput Review.
P.S. The Spicer poem rocks.

Blogger Poet Hound said...

The people I encounter typically believe poetry is "too hard" and I am convinced that some children's schools ruin the chance to enjoy poetry by diving in too deep with translation of a poem's meaning or setting too many guidelines for students' creative writing. I went to those schools as a child. I love it because my father was smart enough to read me poems and leave it at that. Now I have a personal mission to get more and more people to enjoy poetry for its own sake. Sometimes the way words are put together are entertaining enough. Other times, the poems provide solace or bring forth poignant memories. Either way, every single person should be able to enjoy poetry. There is something for everyone.

David Rollison, a community college English Dept Chair wrote:

Another answer is that scholars and professors read poetry--often quite scrupulously but very differently from the way poets read poetry in some respects. This is particularly true of highly charged poetical periods such as British Romanticism or American Modernism--the profs are doing some reading and writing that is poetry in and of itself.

The Spicer poem--which I have a very nice broadside of, printed by Graham Mackintosh, late of Black Sparrow Press--says no one listens to poetry but makes poetry a natural force like the ocean--no one listens to the ocean either but that's because it's awesome and hypnotic powers overwhelm us.

Painter Jim Spitzer (see drawing above) said...

Poets-Poetry and all the other "Tender Arts" expose an often negative part of our culture. They become the target of people who have never developed a sensitivity to the intimate expressions and dreams of others. These, sometimes mindless people, playing their IPODS and UZIS to dull their inner noise that Might give meaning and credibility to their existence are a wall between between small islands of green on a dying planet.
To them---ALL OF THEM---I would say
DON'T JUDGE THE MEANING OF MY ART by your inability to understand.

Ed Hagan of Nice, CA is to the point,

We are all poets.

Comment Here on any of the above or below and read the comments of others too.
Log in
under "Nickname" or "Anonymous" if you like, but please be sure to sign
some facsimile of your name. Actual name is best, but use what you
like. Or email me at

Excerpts and a Poem From Ted Greenwald (see photo above)

Not being particularly conversant with Ted Greenwald or his work,
I was impressed reading his provocative interview with Arlo Quint
in the Dec.07/Jan 08 issue of the Poetry Project Newsletter.
Here are excerpts from the interview followed by a poem.

"The key is, you know, how ambitious are people? Do you all think that
you're the most important poets who are alive at the moment? Now if you
feel that way then you're gonna have a scene. If you don't feel that
way, if you assume you're just another poet, then you might as well
hang up your cleats right there."

"Sometimes competition is nota half bad thing where you sort of, somewhere in your
head, compete with someone who you think writes really well...But what I'm really
talking about is people whose work you like. You read a nice piece, and
you go home, and you've gotta write a piece. That's the competition."

"I think people get it wrong when they say they're waiting for some bigger
thing. Take what you have and say that it's an important work. I don't
make any distinction between chapbooks and big books because, to me,
when I have twelve pages I make a book of twelve pages. Basically, I'm
modeling it after an LP record--there's 12 cuts. It's a real book.
Everything should be a real book if you're gonna do it at that level.
It shouldn't just be a throwaway where you waste time and energy and
money...everything should be worth something. If you yourself don't
think it's good, how the fuck are other people gonna think it's any

"So let me just go line by line. What that does
don't get into the issue of how to turn the line, so then you get a
whole different other kind of shape happening. Every poet in the world,
once you get to that turn, then it turns proselike in the second line.
That first line is poetry, the second line is always prose if you
continue that particular thought. If you stop the thought and let that
thought go out that way and do another line, another thought or
something...whole other thoughts, whole other lines, and you move along
that way and see where that goes." (Ed's note: Somewhat belied by the
Greenwald poem below)

"I read a lot, but if I'm going to mine
things that I'm reading I'm going to look for things that are 'spoken
nuggets' as it were. I think that the most interesting thing in the
language is the noise. You can't have any communication without it. You
have to have a sense of delivering the work in public. A competitive

" people get older, they have a tendency to want to
introduce their own work, which I find tedious. I don't think that work
should be introduced...You lay it out. I don't want to discuss how I
wrote this."

" seems to me that you want the work out in front. The work should
be what people look at."


The long and the short
Of it is
I have to keep pushing
I feel myself
Pushing against the
Lead-in to beauty
And take a hunch through
With me
Ito the halls
Where the everyday
Seems like eternity
There's no fooling around
About something
As serious
As it is beautiful
There's no match
For the feeling
That gets there
When I get there
And absolutely no sense
Of duration
And no telling
How everything turns out

Ted Greenwald was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, and has lived in New
York City his entire life. During the course of a career that has
spanned some 30 years, he has been the author of numerous books of
poetry including
Two Wrongs (Cuneiform Press), his recently published
collaboration with the artist Hal Saulson.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Who Reads Poetry (other than poets)? Part 1

Notice that I've changed the name of this site from "Blog" to "Venue." I hate the word "Blog" and feel it to be off putting to others as well. So, welcome, once again, this time to "Ed Coletti's Poetry Venue."

Drawing by Jim Spitzer
Who, Aside From Poets, Read Poetry

As I suspect it might with many of us, this question was troubling me a year ago. I put it out there to several folks. The following were attempts at figuring this out.

Please do join in with your own responses.

First something older from Jack Spicer

Thing Language

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Is bread and butter.
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

If poets only write poems about poems
or about poets writing poems about poems
then no one who reads poems
but doesn't write poems
will care to read poems

(Katherine Hastings)

well, if you teach a kid to write a poem in a non-traditional way
that kid will have a massive head start when it comes to
learning how to read a poem....which is maybe like
bringing a kid into the kitchen as you cook fish and asparagus
down the line that smell and that involvement might allow them
to enjoy them instead of hide from them

just a thought

(John Coletti)

Poetry Reading At The County Dump

Salvador studying English comes across
my poems filled with typos tossed to recyle.

“Lying On a Swing in August” transports Sal
to the sky and momentary respite.

“Bologna Station Caffé” returns him
to the Zocalo in Qaxaca Centro.

“The Wasteland by Edward Coletti
confuses him with its shape.

He can smell the familiar rotting carcasses
in “Much More Than Roadkill.”

“What” easily translates to “Que.” but
“¿Como se dice “Treatise” en Español?

“ ‘A Treatise on What,’ what does it matter
why the pigeon disturbs this Coletti?

“Why does this Edward worry that
no one will read him? There is an address,

a phone number, email, should I presume
to contact him? Would he be angry?”

(Ed Coletti)

Poetry Foundation's Findings

The Poetry Foundation commissioned the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago to conduct a large-scale, national research study on the state of poetry in America. This groundbreaking study replaces the usual anecdotal information about poetry with factual information about Americans' attitudes toward and experiences with poetry. This research will enable the Foundation, and other literary and cultural institutions, to better understand the factors that bring poetry enthusiasts to their appreciation of poetry as well as those that may dissuade people from engaging with the art form.

Why Poetry?
Poetry is one of the art forms that defines our culture. It improves the quality of life both for those who create it and for those who appreciate it, educating and invigorating the citizenry, and enhancing people's lives by providing them with deeply meaningful experiences. The extent to which poetry achieves these goals is neither well understood nor easy to quantify.

Key Findings
  • 64 percent of adult readers think that people should read more poetry.
  • Poetry is appreciated by a broad and demographically diverse portion of society; individuals from all walks of life and education levels read and enjoy poetry.
  • Poetry readers tend to be sociable and lead active lives. They listen to music, read a variety of genres, use the Internet, attend cultural events, volunteer, and socialize with friends and family at significantly higher rates than do non-poetry readers.
  • Most poetry readers (80 percent) first encounter poetry as children, at home or in school. 77 percent of all readers were read nursery rhymes as children; 45 percent of current poetry readers also had other forms of poetry read to them as children.
  • Poetry readers believe that poetry provides insights into the world around them, keeps the mind sharp, helps them understand themselves and others, and provides comfort and solace.
  • Readers turn to a variety of sources to find poetry: single-author books (77 percent), anthologies (58 percent), television (48 percent), radio (41 percent), the Internet (36 percent), poetry readings (29 percent), poetry magazines (20 percent), reviews/commentaries about poetry (19 percent), poetry slams (12 percent).
  • When people encounter poetry in unexpected places such as newspapers, general-interest magazines, and public events, even non-poetry readers read or listen to it: 99 percent of all adult readers indicated that they have incidentally encountered poetry, and 81 percent reported that they read or listened to the poem when they encountered it.
  • Approximately two-thirds of the respondents thought that both poets and poetry readers are people who are generally respected; 70 percent would like to meet poets, and 66 percent would like to meet poetry readers.
  • Among the most frequently cited reasons that people don't read poetry are lack of time, loss of interest, lack of access, and the perception that poetry is difficult and irrelevant.
  • Former poetry readers, while crediting poetry with many of the same rewards as do current readers, do so at much lower rates and are more apt to say that they personally received no benefits from reading poetry. Of those former readers who did find poetry rewarding, most championed poetry for its entertainment value and were less inclined to note intellectual or psychological benefits.
  • While more than 80 percent of former poetry readers find poetry difficult to understand, only 2 percent of respondents don't read poetry because they feel it is "too hard."
  • More than half of all current poetry readers read or listen to contemporary poetry, that is poetry written since 1945. About one-third restrict their involvement to contemporary poetry, and about one-quarter read or listen to both contemporary poetry and the classics.

    Poetry in America can be downloaded as a PDF at

  • Comment Here on any of the above or below and read the comments of others too. Log in
    under "Nickname" or "Anonymous" if you like, but please be sure to sign
    some facsimile of your name. Actual name is best, but use what you
    like. Or email me at