“Spring Fashion Modeled by Rising Young Poets.” The words are heart-sinking. For some readers, this will be because poetry represents a higher form of culture that can only be debased by the commentary of Oprah Winfrey and the pencil skirts of L’Wren Scott. But this isn’t quite right. Any critic knows there are dozens of poetry collections published every year that are considerably less culturally valuable than Winfrey’s many enterprises and that could only be improved by pencil skirts, preferably by being wrapped in several of them and chucked in the East River. The problem is that poetry can’t approach the world inhabited by O and fashion design — that is, the world of American mass culture — with the same swagger as other fields do. When Terrell Owens holds forth on poetry in O (yes, he does), much of the audience knows that Owens is a football player, and has at least a vague idea of what football is, what it means and why it inspires otherwise reasonable people to put Styrofoam cheese slices on their heads. But poets and poetry readers... we can’t bring our context with us. We’re at the mercy of someone else’s display. The sad thing about “Spring Fashion Modeled by Rising Young Poets” is not that the photos are a debasement of Art. The sad thing is that they capture an inevitable and impossible yearning. The chasm between the audience for poetry and the audience for O is vast, and not even the mighty Oprah can build a bridge from empty air.
- David Orr, in his essay "Oprah Magazine's Adventures in Poetry" in the New York Times' Sunday Book Review. He goes on to talk about how questions like "where does poetry come from?" inevitably lead to answers "that make poetry sound like God’s own electric Kool-Aid acid test." Funny, smart stuff. Read the whole thing here.
p.s. Kathleen Rooney posted this response to Orr on the Harriet blog. An excerpt:
Those who declare—as David Orr does in the New York Times—that “The chasm between the audience for poetry and the audience for O is vast, and not even the mighty Oprah can build a bridge from empty air” fail to properly credit not Winfrey but poetry. One hopes that they do so out of an honest ignorance of the role poetry actually plays in the lives of most people who read, write, and share it. One fears, however, that they do so out of a desire to preserve poetry as a domain of connoisseurs, as an elite signifier for the educated and affluent. Someone may be well-served by this attitude; poetry is not.