Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Poetry for Americans

My internet connection called in sick today, and being on dialup is motivating me to keep this short. But that's okay because I just remembered that on Monday I bookmarked a post over at Beatrice and then forgot to mention it here.

According to Ron Hogan,
To mark the publication of the third edition of The Oxford Book of American Poetry, they're running a poll for "America's Favorite Poem", and so far T.S Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is beating out Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Come on, poetry fans: Are we going to let some monarchy-loving expatriate represent the best-loved American verse? I should think not!
Ron wants to know, as do I, why John Greenleaf Whittier didn't make the ballot. I'd have cast my vote for something like "The Barefoot Boy" in a heartbeat, but since that wasn't possible, I contributed to the pathetic total (2%) in the Emma Lazarus column. Not because she's a particular favorite of mine, but because surely there has never been a more "American" poem than "The New Colossus."

Your thoughts?


Neal said...

Hmm. Well I'm not American, and I freely admit I know nothing about poetry, so I'm doubly-unqualified to make a comment, but I'm not going to let that stop me.

Two things occur to me:

1. Just because it's America's favourite poem, does it necessarily have to uphold American values and the American way of life? Can't it just be _by_ an American? I know very little about the poems selected, but that's the implication I draw from your post. If it was England's favourite poem, would I want to see a choice between poems that uphold the monarchy, the Union Jack, and the good old British Empire? Nope. (Actually, a big digression is possible here, because if there were to be such a poll, I bet that's exactly what the choices would be -- jingoistic rubbish from the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Daffodils by Wordsworth -- beautiful, but such an obvious choice -- and barely a look in for the likes of, oh I don't know, W H Auden or William Motion, let alone John Lennon or Billy Bragg, say)

2. If we're really talking America's favourite, as in most popular, rather than "America's most worthy poem" (which I suspect is what this poll is really all about), then I have just two words: Dr Seuss.

Sorry if that all sounds a bit controversial. Maybe it's too early in the morning and I just wanted to mouth off, but from the little I could tell, this "poll" seems to be exactly what I would expect from this sort of thing: providing people with the opportunity to prove how worthy they are by choosing from a set of obvious choices and thereby continuing the status quo.

Neal said...

Just a quick follow-up about my mention of Dr. Seuss. I didn't mean to imply anything negative here. I love Dr Seuss. Most people love Dr Seuss. That was my point, really. Seriously, I think Dr Seuss deserves a place in that poll.

Brenda Coulter said...

I'm doubly-unqualified to make a comment, but I'm not going to let that stop me.

That's the spirit, Neal. Funny how you sound just like an American!

Neal said...