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Thursday, February 23, 2006


Ed Peters

Does anyone care about poetry anymore?

To judge from the reply post-rate so far, No.

This is, to some degree, "poetry's" fault. We grew up with such evident trash being pushed on us as poetry, that many of us gave up on it till much later in life, when we had the resources to find the good stuff on our own. I am poetry-deprived; but I have made some efforts at making up for it in the last several years.

Carl Olson

We grew up with such evident trash being pushed on us as poetry.

One word comes to mind: Howl.

The Beat "poets" and "writers" did much to destroy an interest in great poetry and literature, turning the arts of verse and prose into the "art" of creating navel-gazing, ideologically-drenched, drug-soaked, semi-literate, sexually-perverted, barbaric crap. But, hey, that's just my opinion. ;-)

I was fortunate in that my parents were literally literarily illiterate (say it ten times! Faster!). Yes, they could/can read, but they didn't read any great books, with the exception of the Bible. I discovered literature on my own, by accident, through fate and fluke. Or, better, by Providence. In fifth grade I wrote dozens of poems, a practice I kept up for several more years. None of it was that good, but I gained an appreciation of how hard (impossible!) it is to write like Eliot, Frost, Dante, etc. Today I don't read nearly as much poetry as I should. But I do re-read Eliot's "Selected Poems" a couple of times a year. And I've vowed, upon interviewing Joseph Pearce, to read The Divine Comedy from front to back.


"Part of the problem, Thomas Howard that we too often think of poems (when we think of them at all) as pretty but uneccessary decorations."

The key part of this sentence is found in the parentheses: "(when we think of them at all)." Who has the inclination to read - much less to actually comtemplate - poetry when there are so many wonderful television shows to watch? See the recent thread here for an index of some of them. I can say it no better than, again, Neil Postman:

"Television does not extend or amplify literate culture. It attacks it." He then provides ample support for this conclusion.

"I should go so far as to say that embedded in the surrealistic frame of a television news show is a theory of anticommunication, featuring a type of discourse that abandons logic, reason, sequence, and rules of contradiction. In aesthetics, I believe the name given to this is Dadaism; in philosophy, nihilism; in psychiatry, schizophrenia. In the parlance of the theater, it is known as vaudeville."

"Television is the new state religion run by a private Ministry of Culture.... Our Ministry of Culture is Huxleyan, not Orwellian. It does everything possible to encourage us to watch continuously.... Television is the soma of the Aldous Huxley's Brave New World."

As that recent thread on television clearly revealed, even many readers of this blog are television addicts, structuring their evenings around the glowing screen. This was surprising to me, because I was naive enough to think that followers of Christ would use their time much more wisely. Record yourself as you watch. Observe the blank stare and the glaze in your eyes. (I did this, and it was most disturbing. This little experiment was a major factor in causing me to renounce television, and it led me to Postman's book.) Television, not religion, is the opiate of the masses.

Another Steve

Carl, the Divine Comedy is just that - divine. read it, read it and re read it. But get yourself a modern translation. Mine is an OUP paperback in blank verse translated by C. H. Sisson. Also trawl for Dante by R. W. B. Lewis. Amazon UK/Ribble Books have a stash of hard backs going for about $US2 plus P & P. It's an excellent backgrounder by a prominent scholar of the guy.


I have a suggested article for one of your writers, or perhaps for a great cultural critic like Theodore Dalrymple, Florence King, or Roger Kimball. The title:

"The Assumption of Illiteracy"

See if you can spot the assumption in this article:


Vatican to Muslims: practice what you preach

Feb 23, 12:54 PM (ET)

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - After backing calls by Muslims for respect for their religion in the Mohammad cartoons row, the Vatican is now urging Islamic countries to reciprocate by showing more tolerance toward their Christian minorities.

Roman Catholic leaders at first said Muslims were right to be outraged when Western newspapers reprinted Danish caricatures of the Prophet, including one with a bomb in his turban. Most Muslims consider any images of Mohammad to be blasphemous.

After criticizing both the cartoons and the violent protests in Muslim countries that followed, the Vatican this week linked the issue to its long-standing concern that the rights of other faiths are limited, sometimes severely, in Muslim countries.

Vatican prelates have been concerned by recent killings of two Catholic priests in Turkey and Nigeria. Turkish media linked the death there to the cartoons row. At least 146 Christians and Muslims have died in five days of religious riots in Nigeria.

"If we tell our people they have no right to offend, we have to tell the others they have no right to destroy us," Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's Secretary of State (prime minister), told journalists in Rome.

"We must always stress our demand for reciprocity in political contacts with authorities in Islamic countries and, even more, in cultural contacts," Foreign Minister Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo told the daily Corriere della Sera.

Reciprocity -- allowing Christian minorities the same rights as Muslims generally have in Western countries, such as building houses of worship or practicing religion freely -- is at the heart of Vatican diplomacy toward Muslim states.

Vatican diplomats argue that limits on Christians in some Islamic countries are far harsher than restrictions in the West that Muslims decry, such as France's ban on headscarves in state schools.

Saudi Arabia bans all public expression of any non-Muslim religion and sometimes arrests Christians even for worshipping privately. Pakistan allows churches to operate but its Islamic laws effectively deprive Christians of many rights.

Both countries are often criticized at the United Nations Human Rights Commission for violating religious freedoms.


Pope Benedict signaled his concern on Monday when he told the new Moroccan ambassador to the Vatican that peace can only be assured by "respect for the religious convictions and practices of others, in a reciprocal way in all societies."

He mentioned no countries by name. Morocco is tolerant of other religions, but like all Muslim countries frowns on conversion from Islam to another faith.

Iraqi Christians say they were well treated under Saddam Hussein's secular policies, but believers have been killed, churches burned and women forced to wear Muslim garb since Islamic groups gained sway after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Christians make up only a tiny fraction of the population in most Muslim countries. War and political pressure in recent decades have forced many to emigrate from Middle Eastern communities dating back to just after the time of Jesus.

As often happens at the Vatican, lower-level officials have been more outspoken than the Pope and his main aides.

"Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It's our duty to protect ourselves," Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican's supreme court, thundered in the daily La Stampa. Jesus told his followers to "turn the other cheek" when struck.

"The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century, mostly for oil, and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights," he said.

Bishop Rino Fisichella, head of one of the Roman universities that train young priests from around the world, told Corriere della Sera the Vatican should speak out more.

"Let's drop this diplomatic silence," said the rector of the Pontifical Lateran University. "We should put pressure on international organizations to make the societies and states in majority Muslim countries face up to their responsibilities."


I was insulted when I first read this, but then I thought that, given our addiction to television and other forms of entertainment, Reuters' assumption that their readers would lack foundational literacy is not unjustified. I've seen this assumption increasingly cropping up in various articles lately. It speaks volumes.

Ed Peters

"And I've vowed, upon interviewing Joseph Pearce, to read The Divine Comedy from front to back."

Carl, I will if you will. I've only read the Purgatorio.

Cristina A. Montes

Carl, I highly recommend that you read Dante's "The Divine Comedy". I took a three-unit course in it while doing my undergraduate liberal arts degree, and I found it awesome! I remember that I did a paper on it on the subject of "What can a poet do that a theologian cannot". I also remember that in class, we had wicked fun trying to guess what circle of the Inferno certain famous (or infamous) people will end up in.

Our professor recommended the translations by Mandelbaum and Ciardi. I used the Mandelbaum edition that has the English on the even-numbered pages and the original Italian on the odd-numbered pages.

Fellow Tolkien fans will find some similarities between Dante's Inferno and "Lord of the Rings". WHile I was reading LOTR, I couldn't help but think at some parts, "This is so Dante!"

Oh, and I do care about poetry. I write some, but mostly second-raters.


Folks have pretty effectively highlighted the reasons nobody cares about poetry: 1) modern poetry (and literature in general) is garbage and 2) people in general aren't literate or intellectually sophisticated enough to think about the written word. I think some of the points about television are right on, too -- now everyone's a blasted aesthetic. We care about how things look, feel, and "go together," but not in any sense or way that really makes sense. Even most college campuses -- the places that are supposed to be bastions of literacy and intellectualism -- are merely cesspools of ignorance and apathy. There's lots of excitement of abstractions ("man, people having to be poor sucks!"), but you'd find more serious, mature intellectual discourse in a kindergarten. Look at any college newspaper (which will probably be fairly indicative of the overall intellectual climate) -- chances are, it's a rag in which writers who are already only quasi-literate attempt to dumb down even further their treatment of inane and pointless subjects. This prepares them quite well for being modern journalists, loosely defined as someone who writes about things he does not understand, and yet has managed to convince someone to pay him to do so. It prepares them very poorly for being literate and intelligent human beings.


"not in any sense or way that really makes sense."

Hmmm, it appears that I can get all the affects of a college education just by being distracted. Why am I paying tuition?

Another Steve

Carl, about Dante AGAIN. Here's my take on that genius.


Dante readers may well wish to get these lectures on DVD produced by The Teaching Company:

Carl Olson

Dante readers may well wish to get these lectures on DVD produced by The Teaching Company:

Uh, Jackson, that might involve having to watch television. And you know how I feel about doing that... ;-)


hehehehe.... Thought I'd be a bit less predictable for a moment!

Cristina A. Montes

Where do I get a copy of the Neil Postman essay (is it an essay?)

Mark Brumley

I'm shocked that all these cultured, intelligent, spiritual folks have so much to say about poetry. Shocked, I tell you. Doesn't anyone know what Plato had to say about the poets?

Carl Olson

Where do I get a copy of the Neil Postman essay (is it an essay?)

Amusing Ourselves to Death was a book first published in 1986. It raised a lot of eyebrows (and many hackles) because of its strong and, often, excellent criticisms of television and how electronic media affects how people think, perceive, live, etc. Go to Neil Postman Online for info about the author and his many essays and books:

Carl Olson

Ed wrote: "Carl, I will if you will. I've only read the Purgatorio."

Yes, I'm gonna do it! I do have two editions of The Divine Comedy. And both are, I confess, packed away. So I need to dig them out.


The real question is: Does anyone care about articles about anyone caring about poetry? I know I don't but am willing to be charitable to anyone who does. ;-)

Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP

Great contemporary Christian poet: Eric Pankey. I'm not sure he identifies himself as Christian, but his poetry is chocked-full of Christian liturgical images and language. His tryptich (three books)--Apocrypha, The Late Romances, and Cenotaph--is just beautiful.

Fr. Philip, OP

Carl Olson

The real question is: Does anyone care about articles about anyone caring about poetry? I know I don't but am willing to be charitable to anyone who does. ;-)

Or, does anyone care about those who care enough to say they don't care about those who care about articles about those who care about poetry. Tis indeed a puzzle for great minds...


I wrote a reply.

It is, of course, in the form of a poem...

Juan Pilgrim

Carl, "Howl" is a brilliant poem and if you can't understand its greatness you can't understand the yearning of the modern, itinerant wanderer who has yet to encounter Christ. Percy knew better. I bet he loved "Howl."

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