Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Outlaw poetry

The title is a description, not a directive, although apparently not everyone would agree with me.

Occassionaly fhb gets a flurry of an unusual number of hits, usually meaning that someone has linked to me. That happened again last week, and when I tracked down the origin, I found that one of the writers at "Reason Online" had posted the following short blurb in their "Hit and Run" column.

Where the Censors Are Strong, the Good Looking Women Are Covered Up, and the Above Average Children Kept Away From Poetry

Via Romenesko comes this story about a Kentucky radio station that felt, in this age of an obscenity-obsessed FCC, it had to pull a potentially offensive radio program. The program? Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac. The problem? Well, you can read the offending three poems and see for yourself (or go to the Writers Almanac site and hear Keillor reading them if you poke through the archives). About as anodyne a set of poems as you could dig up without stooping to Kilmer. The station manager was doubtless overreacting—it's hard to imagine even the touchiest listener complaining about this stuff—but is this really what we've come to?

The link in the word "poems" is to my posting of Amber Sumrall's "Reunion," which is in her collection, "Litany of Wings," which you can buy from Amazon if you follow the link. The phrase, "getting high," was apparently the offending part of Sumrall's poem in the eyes (or ears) of the Kentucky station, as was the word "breast," in the other two poems.

I have mixed feelings about posting poetry not in the public domain. I'm a semi-practicing writer myself, and I'm probably more sensitive about copyright/use issues than the average Bear. On the other hand, Keillor and "The Writer's Almanac" are already distributing the works on the internet, albeit with copyright and "permission granted" notices.

It finally comes down to the more widely poetry is distributed and read, the better, in my opinion. Poetry, as the story above demonstrates, is subversive stuff, which I've known since I first read Herrick's ode to free-swinging tits, "Upon Julia's Clothes,"
Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration each way free;
O how that glittering taketh me!
"Brave vibration each way free"? God knows where that one might lead in Kentucky. Christ, Field and Donald Justice only wrote the word in their poems, not speculate on how they move.

Anyway, I salve my twinging conscience by carefully noting copyright and, when the opportunity presents, a link to where you can buy the work -- something that neither "The Writers Almanac" nor "American Life in Poetry" does, btw.

And finally, an: UPDATE: KEILLOR RETURNS TO WUKY:Contrary to the claim in the original news story that reaction had been minimal , the cancellation was reversed after listeners flooded the station's phone lines and e-mail inboxes. "It's been an impressive response," says Godell. (You can read Keillor's comments here.)

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