The Poet Laureate and the Fraygrants
The Poet Laureate and the Fraygrants
Sept. 5 1998 3:30 AM

The Poet Laureate and the Fraygrants

Robert Pinsky goes toe-to-toe with participants in "The Fray."

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I think there are subjects and feelings one carries around for many years, perhaps noticing them sometimes no more than a limb of one's body, and then one day the opportunity to write that poem somehow appears. I feel as if "The Unseen" is as you say about what one cannot get at--to return to the haunted ruin idea, the part that is left in ruin. And at Auschwitz, the proportion of what is lost, and the dimension of it, is like a cry as big as the universe ...

I do still play the sax, take a lesson with the Boston jazz player Steve Tully whenever I can ... though there is so much travel that I often neglect it ...


A couple of years ago, Garrison Keillor (yes, the Minnesota boy) wrote a scathing article in the Atlantic Monthly called "The Poetry Judge" (it is not online unfortunately) where he had been asked to judge a local poetry competition in XXX town somewhere. He said he wished that he could have given NO awards, because all the poetry was so bad. Is this because he is a crotchety Midwesterner or because poetry is so "easy" to write that anyone who strings a rhyming couplet together is a poet?

And then, why is it so HARD to write good poetry?



Garrison Keillor is a serious lover of poetry and knows what he is talking about; if you ever hear him read a poem aloud, you will know what I mean. He gets it. I can imagine him (he is a grouchy chap) becoming a bit bearish if his beloved art seemed to be taken lightly, or treated as if it were easy, or an amusing sideline, etc.


Something that ties into Garrison Keillor's gruff attitude toward judging a poetry competition is the current phenomenon of poetry "Slams," which appears to be quite fashionable among the young hipster set. While I definitely think it's a good thing for these kids to be channeling their energy into artistic pursuits, I find the competitive attitude at these events rather distasteful. To me it misses the point and fatally detracts from the art. I'll assume there's an element of competition among established poets, as there is in any vocation, but that's not quite the same as these verbal mud-wrestling exhibitions. What other readily available options do you suppose young people interested in honing their poetic skills have today?


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