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What’s a Poem Worth?
MRIC 2004/05

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"What’s a Poem Worth?"

November 30
Robert Wrigley - English

Abstract: There is considerable evidence to suggest that poetry may well be the least practical art in existence, though its impracticality, from the poet’s point of view, at least, is self-inflicted. It is a fact that no one in the United States of America can make a living writing poems. Some poets have made something like a living on what’s called “the reading circuit,” speaking their poems to audiences, becoming something more like itinerant performers of poetry than writers of it. But no genuine poet, writing with high literary standards, in this nation, has ever been able to support him/herself on what the world of publishers and readers will pay for the art. And yet, people keep on writing poems. People in ever-growing numbers want to be poets. And sales of poetry books are higher than ever American history. Why? Perhaps it is because there is no one more deeply and significantly in touch with language than poets. The poet’s language is, after all, the same language we use to woo and to wound, to sing and to curse, to sell and to offer salvation. It is, therefore, the poet’s job to redeem the language, to keep it honest, to show how important each individual word can be.

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