Vile Poetry

Is there anything more obscene than people reading poems out loud? It’s doubly obscene when the poems are their own. Of the various sins committed by National Public Radio, none is blacker than All Things Considered interviewing contemporary poets and inviting them to air their horrors. I curse and change the station.

A pianist performs music composed by others and is an artist. A reader of Yeats or Whitman is nothing at all. It seems that there is no art of reading. Shakespeare and Milton may be read aloud without causing pain, but not by just anyone. Edward Lear, alone of poetkind, may perhaps be democratically recited without offense to God or the devil.

I suffer shame when I enjoy a poem. I commit nostalgia, summoning an age when magic spells were half-possible. Emily Dickinson was the last witch of New England. I read silently because a private faith is best. Public zeal embarrasses like the misunderstandings of childhood. A small flame guarded in the palm is all that I can keep.

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