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Celebrate Bad Poetry Day!

August 17, 2015

We made note of “Bad Poetry Day” two years ago, having just missed the chance to celebrate it. Then we missed it last year, I’m not sure why. Now, we have our chance again. Bad Poetry Day is tomorrow, August 18th .

Someone invented it for whimsy’s sake, which is better motivation than produced Hallmark holidays, invented for commerce. Actually, I’m not sure that Hallmark itself (it is a “person” after all) ever invented a holiday, but Bad Poetry Day would have been an appropriate one.

The same person who named Bad Poetry Day also named Family History Day in June. I’m much, much more interested in bad poetry than family history.

But no one sets out to write bad poetry, except in celebration of the day, and this makes it awkward to celebrate. Who wants to win? To be feted?

Perhaps it should be honor’d in the breach, in a way—that we should celebrate good poetry.

What’s good? Shakespearean sonnets, of course. Baxter Black, someone says. Poetry remembered and recited as its main form of transmission is almost certain to be different from that which is written and read.

Poetic forms used to serve memory, but even modern free verse can be memorized, and not simply by brute force but with the aid of rhythms and accents (and meaning) poets can hardly keep out of their work.

It’s really no harder to remember “The winter evening settles down with smell of steaks in passage ways. Six o’clock …” than it is “Once up on a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary …”

Or, “The house was quiet because it had to be. The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind: the access of perfection to the page.”

Sometimes, you read on the subway. Other times, when, as Wallace Stevens said, “The house was quiet and the world was calm. The reader became the book; and summer night was like the conscious being of the book,” you read in utter peace and stillness.

You’re not being transported away from anything but rather into something.

School is starting and Mumford & Sons are coming, but there will still be pauses in the day when you might pick up some poems. The library has plenty of poetry, both upstairs and in the annex, in books and in magazines. So it’s easy to keep some at hand.

If you have no preferences yet, you might keep Garrison Keillor’s collection “Good poems” on the coffee table, or his other one, “Good poems for hard times.” Or Nobel laureate poet Czeslaw Milosz’s collection “A book of luminous things.” Or “Upholding mystery: an anthology of contemporary Christian poetry.”

You might imagine there are others. “Wheel and come again: an anthology of reggae poetry.” And “When she named fire: an anthology of contemporary poetry by American women.”

A Baxter Black fan may not like Charles Bukowski but may enjoy “The big roundup,” another anthology. I revere certain poems by T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens, but not all of them.

So far, though, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Todd Boss and Matthew Dickman. I liked all of Stephen Dobyns’s “Cemetery nights” and “Common carnage.”

Don’t worry, I’m not stuck on white males, dead or alive. I’ve greatly enjoyed everything by Kay Ryan. I remember Linda Pastan, Lucia Perillo, Wislawa Szymborska, Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux, Daisy Fried.

What I’m saying is: It’s so easy. Honor “Bad Poetry Day” with great poetry.


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