Poetry's Back Seat at The Post

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Poets had gotten used to not being considered part of the "Arts" by The Post, e.g., the Sept. 13 Fall Arts Preview: Art -- Film -- Music -- Theater -- Dance. After all, we had the Literary Calendar on a Book World page and the marvelous Poet's Choice column: an actual poem in each Sunday's paper that acted as a small window into another way of seeing, amid the journalistic and opinion pieces. Now the stand-alone Book World is gone, and in its place are a few reviews in the Outlook section and a sadly foreshortened Literary Calendar. Poet's Choice is only on the Web, with a bare reference on Page B8.

Not a single poetry reading was listed in the past six calendars in the print edition. Are the compilers aware of the large, vibrant, diverse and growing audience at poetry events throughout the District and its surroundings? There are weekly events at all three Busboys and Poets locations and at museums, cafes, nightclubs, churches and libraries and in other locations. In the summer, there is even an outdoor series in Rock Creek Park. Those in the know can hunt these events down. But what of someone visiting from out of town or new to our city or someone who's never considered going to a live poetry event but might if they saw it listed in our paper of record?

Yes, the online Washington Area Literary Calendar lists more events, including poetry readings. But that listing is hard to find on the Web site. The Going Out Guide also seems to have a blind spot, as no poetry events find their way to its listings, either in print or online.

Then there's Poet's Choice. The new print edition Book World barely mentions it and does not include a Web address for it.

Consider how the Sept. 6 choice, Patricia Smith's "Ethel's Sestina," evoked the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina as no other anniversary story could, in resonant, poetic language:

"I trust his every word. Herbert my son.

I believe him when he says help gon' come."

In those short lines: the families destroyed, our government's shameful abandonment of its people.

And in the Sept. 13 Poet's Choice, poet Valerie Martinez, whose poem "September 2001" imagines the afterlife of a suicide bomber, even makes a plea for a wider readership for poetry that moves in the public realm.

Ideally, The Post would review books of poetry and include the literary arts among the other arts in its previews. But at the very least, please help poetry reach its audience with a few simple steps: Bring back Poet's Choice to the print edition and restore poetry readings to the Literary Calendar. Our city and our culture will be the richer for it.

-- Sarah Browning


The writer is co-director of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

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