From March 30 to April 1 the glorious cacophony that is American poetry was on display at the People’s Poetry Gathering in New York City. Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz presided over a meeting of folk, dub (reggae), political, formalist, avant-garde, and even more esoteric schools of poets. With its "slam" contests and seminars on "Poetry and Beauty," the gathering was an unusual, blessed exception to the current disconnect between elite and popular poetry. And it might be the start of a new kind of National Poetry Month.
Observed every April ("the cruellest month") since 1996, you’d think a month devoted to promoting America’s poetic legacy and to bringing contemporary poets and poems to the attention of schools and a wider public would be uncontroversial. Think again.
Critics charge that the American Academy of Poets, founder of National Poetry Month, treats poems like castor oil. Read poems! They’re good for you! The academy, the critics go on, sells poetry short by favoring message-oriented poems, and by seeking sponsorship from the very newspapers, publishers, and bookstore chains most responsible for increasing the difficulty that unknown but talented poets have getting heard and being printed.
But as with many protests, hyperbole and truth are intertwined. Are Americans so allegeric to poetry that they require an ad campaign to sell it? As regularly seen on PBS’s "News Hour," former Poet...