Monday 30 October 2023

What Is Good For You

August Kleinzahler (1949-), ‘No Antonin Artaud with the Flapjacks, Please’, Poetry Magazine (14 November 2005):

There is a passage from a William Carlos Williams poem, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” dear to the hearts of those who would peddle poetry, or the idea of poetry, to the masses. I have heard it read on NPR in that solemn, hushed tone that is a commonplace among poetry salespersons, not least Mr. Keillor:
 
    Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
    I come, my sweet,
    to sing to you!
    My heart rouses
    thinking to bring you news
    of something
    that concerns you
    and concerns many men. Look at
    what passes for the new.
    You will not find it there but in
    despised poems.
    It is difficult
    to get the news from poems
    yet men die miserably every day
    for lack
    of what is found there.
 
A pretty sentiment, to be sure, but simply untrue, as anyone who has been to the supermarket or ballpark recently will concede. Ninety percent of adult Americans can pass through this life tolerably well, if not content, eating, defecating, copulating, shopping, working, catching the latest Disney blockbuster, without having a poem read to them by Garrison Keillor or anyone else. Nor will their lives be diminished by not standing in front of a C├ęzanne at the art museum or listening to a Beethoven piano sonata. Most people have neither the sensitivity, inclination, or training to look or listen meaningfully, nor has the culture encouraged them to, except with the abstract suggestion that such things are good for you. Multivitamins are good for you. Exercise, fresh air, and sex are good for you. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not.