Saturday, September 25, 2010

Is Poetry Going Mainstream?

I pride myself on liking things that other people would find obscure, quirky, or maybe even "off-beat." Things that would definitely be considered outside of the mainstream. Take Twitter for example. Twitter was awesome when nobody had heard of it, when you would mention it to someone and then have to spend 15 minutes explaining its appeal (all the while silently mocking their un-quirkiness err I mean un-coolness). But Twitter has certainly jumped the shark. Not sure when it happened, but it did (maybe it was when Wal-Mart started tweeting) and now I'm over it.

Same thing with music. I first saw 311 in 1994 on the second stage of a local radio station's fall music festival. They were amazing. Shortly thereafter, they hit it big--radio, MTV, etc. I lost interest. (The fact that their music got exponentially worse after their debut album did help matters, though). The Hard Lessons is a local band that has put out some really great music. But when I saw that a teacher at work had a "Hard Lessons" sticker on her file cabinet, I somehow felt less cool. I sure hope Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. doesn't hit it big anytime soon.

Well now it seems that poetry is getting more pub of late. I recently wrote about The Anthologist, a terrific novel I just read. And this week I just learned of a novel called The Financial Lives of Poets. Looks pretty interesting; I'll definitely be reading it. Here's the "book trailer" from Harper Books:

And then there's Howl, a new movie starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg that looks pretty intriguing. I'm not much of a beat poet fan (although I do enjoy the occasional Ferlinghetti poem), but it's hard to resist a movie about a poet and one of his signature poems.  Here's the trailer:

Despite all this, I'm not really worried about poetry taking a dip in the mainstream. In fact, I'm happy. Spread the gospel, that's what I say. The more people reading, writing, teaching, and seeing movies and reading books about poetry the better. It's one thing I love that I'm more than happy to share with others without affecting my twisted outlook on coolness and quirkiness and shark jumping and the like. And in the spirit of spreading the gospel, here is a Ginsberg poem I really like, "A Supermarket in California."

A Supermarket in California
By Allen Ginsberg

  What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked 
down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking 
at the full moon.
  In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon
fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
  What peaches and what penumbras!  Whole families shopping at 
night!  Aisles full of husbands!  Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!
--and you, García Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

  I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking
among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
  I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops?    
What price bananas?  Are you my Angel?
  I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you,
and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
  We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy 
tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the 

  Where are we going, Walt Whitman?  The doors close in a hour.
Which way does your beard point tonight?

I do love poem by Whitman, but a poem featuring Whitman as a character is pretty awesome, too. You can read the rest of the poem here--you can even listen to Mr. Ginsberg read it himself.

So enjoy your time in the mainstream, poetry. I hope you wear a life preserver--the undertow has been known to do some wicked damage.

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