Sunday, January 30, 2011

Poetry Rant Gone Askew

Today just couldn't get off the ground. You know how those kinds of days are, right? A little morning crabbiness begets grouchiness begets anger and before you know it, you're just ticked and you don't know why.

Maybe because I started the morning by finishing a book I've been reading--Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain. Great book. Terrifically written. But, never one to pull punches, Bourdain goes all out in the penultimate chapter, raging against all that gets his goat. Maybe that got me worked up into a lather.

Or maybe it was the grocery store. Nothing like the grocery store to rile you up. Everything's either expensive or gone up in price. Or you have to buy 10 things to get them for the sale price. Well what if I don't want 10 things? And why are graham crackers so expensive? What's in those things anyway?

Or maybe it was my jeans. Now, I'm a jean guy. I'd wear jeans and a sweatshirt every day if I could. But I pulled my only clean pair out of my closet today and it's this pair that represents my greatest mistake ever as a clothing consumer. They're something called "low rise boot cut" jeans. Whatever this means, I hate it. I hate how they look, I hate how they feel, I hate everything about them. Most of all, though, I hate that when I bought them I didn't pause for a moment upon reading the tag (clearly marked "low rise boot cut") and think "I don't know what that means. Maybe I shouldn't get them."

By now you're asking what in the world this has to do with poetry...I'm getting there, trust me. But like many good poems, this post started as one thing and has turned into something completely different. Back to the rant...

Whatever the cause it only got worse once I got to the bookstore. Left there with the chirruns and some time to kill, I was wandering about the children's section, alternately adjudicating disagreements at the train table and shopping for myself. As always, I checked out the children's poetry section and initially, as always, shook my head at the scarcity of shelf space reserved for non-Silverstein, non-Prelutsky poetry books. Except this time, it was worse. What once was a pathetic four linear feet of shelf space for these books seemed to have shrunk to something in the neighborhood of two. Oh, this got me hot.

You're telling me, you can't fill a five-shelf, four foot section with poetry books? No Jane Yolen? No Lee Bennett Hopkins? No (I can't believe I'm typing this) Mary Ann Hoberman? Not a single anthology? Just Shel, Jack, and a couple of unsell-able copies of Poetry for Children: The Seasons. Talk about criminal. Is this what it's come to?

But then I started looking around. If this particular Barnes & Noble in suburban Detroit is any indicator, there's something wrong with more than just the poetry section in the world of big box bookstores and their children's and young adults' departments.

Some things I noticed:

  • Realistic Fiction is an endangered species. At least in Children's Lit. The shelves of the chapter book sections are dominated by fantasy, sci-fi, and several weird multi-genre series that are basically a rip-off of The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Is the real world so lame that no one wants to write about it anymore? Or, even worse, so lame that no one wants to read about it anymore. And this might get me in trouble, but even the realistic fiction that's out there isn't all that "real." It seems like a book has to focus on ISSUES in order to get published--mental impairments, autism, racism, et cetera, et cetera. Something about that just feels preachy to me.
  • Speaking of preachy, if I see one more picture book "written" by a celebrity, I'm gonna puke. And most of them, save maybe Steve Martin's, are so heavy-handed and over-the-top with their messages. It's less like reading and more like getting bludgeoned with the mighty hammer of self-esteem. Yes, I'm talking to you, Madonna, and you, Spike Lee and Tony Dungy and John Lithgow and especially you Jamie Lee Curtis.
  • Did you know: this store devoted over 70 linear feet of shelf space to the genre (previously unknown to myself) TEEN PARANORMAL ROMANCE. Really? Seriously? I have no words for this. Neither will you when I tell you that one of the books in said section was "written" by Hillary Duff.
  • There is a book for sale in the young adult section with the title I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You. It's targeted to teenage girls from what I could tell. Today might mark my daughter's last trip to a bookstore. Oh, and it was placed right next to a book "written" by Lauren Conrad. 
Maybe I just don't get out enough. Maybe this should come as no surprise. I know there are high quality books out there and more are being published every day. My classroom is filled with them. And I personally own about 2 times as many poetry books as they were selling there today. So why aren't bookstores full of them, too? I know, I know. I'm being naive and I lack a capitalist's mindset. The tripe is there because people buy it. Duh. It's still loathsome and enough to make my bad mood even worse on a day like today.

So I'm sorry I'm not really writing about poetry today. I'll do better next time.

1 comment:

  1. Amen, brother. The best defense against bad bookstores is good libraries! Oh, wait...those are under attack, too, and shelves of marvelous books are cleared so that multiple copies of best sellers can be housed...


    (ps -- chirruns made me giggle -- haven't heard that since I taught in TX!)