Happy April 1! In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d re-post Charles Bernstein’s essay “Against National Poetry Month,” an essay that is quite sarcastic at times, especially in the last paragraph, but an essay which addresses the ways in which poetry has been under house arrest over the last few decades, to use a phrase from Adrienne Rich. Sometimes, I find Bernstein to be too over the top, but here, I agree with few of his points.
One of his main gripes is that National Poetry Month promotes what he dubs safe, mainstream, anti-intellectual, non-challenging poetry. To quote from his essay, “Promoting poetry as if it were an ‘easy listening’ station just reinforces the idea that poetry is culturally irrelevant and has done a disservice not only to poetry deemed too controversial or difficult to promote but also to the poetry it puts forward in this way.” There I agree with him.
He also makes a good point about poetry and capitalism when he states that a lot of the major corporate sponsors and chain bookstores that push National Poetry Month are also the ones who limit poetry’s accessibility by refusing to carry books by small poetry presses. He even calls out the New York Times for being a sponsor of National Poetry Month in the past but not giving any serious space for poetry book reviews or poetry itself.
I am not against National Poetry Month as much as Bernstein, and I am happy I have four or so events this month and tend to have a busy April every year, but I do think poetry should hold importance year round, and there are countless writers, conferences, small presses, editors, and book reviewers who try to ensure poetry is relevant beyond the month of April.
I am hoping some other folks will read Bernstein’s essay and offer comment.