Monday, July 10, 2006

Poet's Choice by Edward Hirsch

Much like Camille Paglia's Break Blow Burn, this book is really a guided anthology. Each poem is accompanied by a reading of the poem by Hirsch. Whereas Paglia's reading were line by line and even word by word explications that analyzed the poems much like an English major would, Hirsch goes with a more humanist approach. His readings, which were originally essays for the Washington Post Book World often include anecdotes about the author, a thematic context of how the poem fits with other poems on the subject, and an emotional response. Both anthologies do their job just fine and largely pick interesting poems, though Hirsch has the wider selection. What's interesting is that these books are aimed at a wider audience--the reading public who is generally assumed to be afraid of poetry. The idea is if you provide the poem with a reading of it, it's less intimidating. Probably true. Paglia's book seems to have had success and Hirsch's, which is just out, should too given his past track record. But sometimes I think by treating poetry so delicately ("let me help you with that") we just confirm that it is something to be afraid of and something that one can't simply read and react to without a guidebook. A friend of mine told me about "math phobia" and how it is actually promoted or even created by math teachers who say things to students like, "I know you don't like math but you have to learn it," or "I know this is hard but ..." There is a poetry phobia and sometimes those of us who teach poetry (which I do only at the introductory level) create it. I think Hirsch and Paglia are striking blows against the phobia, but maybe they are perpetuating it a little bit too.

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