Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Poets remain real easy to make fun of

I am a big fan of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, a big get-together of authors, fans and bookish types. One year at that festival, I was in a tent when all of a sudden, George Plimpton, the paper lion, sidled up next to me. We chitchatted, and I liked that.

I made it again to the L.A. Times Festival of Books this past weekend, and, usually, I learn something there or reaffirm a belief I have about literature. This year, I reaffirmed this idea:

Poets, man, they are easy to make fun of.

I only watched one poet, by random, named Jan Beatty, and she was fantastic. She was from Pittsburgh and delivered smart poems full of grit and feeling. I give her high marks, except for one thing. Like nearly all poets, she delivered her poems in a breathy, stilted way. Why do poets do this?

To her credit, Beatty kept her breathiness relatively low, but, yeah, it was still there. The worst is when you hear typical, nature poetry in that lame, breathy voice:

(insert breathy voice)
Flowers are blooming all around me
as I watch clouds escape my view
of re-al-i-ty and breath-i-ness.

Breathe deep the gathering gloom
Watch lights fade from every room
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day's useless energy spent.
Another thing I reaffirmed at the Book Festival was that it is a shame how few writers are celebrities. When I bumped into Plimpton, I thought, "Well, hello there, it's the paper lion."

Plimpton was unmistakable to see, but hardly any writers are recognizable to the average person. I guess that's not necessarily a problem, but just a reality with literary writers nowadays and, well, in all future centuries.

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