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We Must Act Now to Save American Poetry

charles-bernstein-buyout.jpgAt a reading last week celebrating the publication of Best American Poetry 2008, Charles Bernstein read a satirical statement calling for a bailout of America’s bankrupt poetry culture—well, satirical except that we think maybe he wasn’t entirely kidding:

“Let there be no mistake: the fundamentals of our poetry are sound. The problem is not poetry but poems. The crisis has been precipitated by the escalation of poetry debt—poems that circulate in the market at an economic loss due to their difficulty, incompetence, or irrelevance.

Illiquid poetry assets are choking off the flow of imagination that is so vital to our literature. When the literary system works as it should, poetry and poetry assets flow to and from readers and writers to create a productive part of the cultural field. As toxic poetry assets block the system, the poisoning of literary markets has the potential to damage our cultural institutions irreparably.”

“We are convinced that once we have removed these troubled and distressed poems from circulation, our cultural sector will stabilize and readers will regain confidence in American literature,” Bernstein added. “We estimate that for the buyout to be successful, we will need to remove from circulation all poems written after 1904.” (OK, we’re willing to concede that might not be meant to be taken literally…. still, keep in mind, Bernstein is the guy who alerted us to the fact that, back in 1989, New Yorker poetry was all wet.)

(photo: Harper’s/Star Black)

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