POETRY BELONGS TO POETS, NOT INSTITUTIONS

Poetry should belong to poets, not institutions.

Trying to enrich poetry with endowments and gifts is pointless.

Poetry is not like a highway or a school; it doesn’t require funding like that.

Popular appeal is, we feel, an important resource, one which poets once used, but which has dried up due to institutional machinations.

Poetry in China was a required skill for government employees for years. But this was not some charity move to enhance poetry; poetry was seen as a legitimate part of a well-rounded person.

Poetry has historically been a subject in school, but not because efforts were being made to give poetry special protection; poetry, as it existed, was a worthy example for those studying language and history.

Now the cart is before the horse. Poetry does not drive human excellence as an independent force; it is a mere charity case.

Treated as a charity case, this is what it has, in fact, become.

It is precisely the idea that poetry needs special institutional support which prevents poetry from retaining its former glory, since the resource of popular appeal is barred from the poet unable to compete with institutional might.

We cannot get our minds around the fact that billions of dollars of institutional support for poetry has actually hurt poetry.

If you took all that money away, and allowed the poet who appeals to the people to triumph—just allow that process to play out—there’s no telling how much more important poetry would be to us as a culture. Were the muse permitted to be on its own and survive through poetry’s appeal to the public alone, there is no telling how this might enrich us as a people.

Let there be a genuinely popular poet, rather than ten thousand endowed poets, and let us see what follows. We don’t know what that poetry would look like in this scenario, because it hasn’t been allowed to exist. We’re not talking about a Robert Frost either, who was in some ways an institutional product, and somewhat popular as well. We’re talking about a Robert Frost x 100.

How would poetry flourish without any institutional support? Let’s see what poetry would look like, that in order to survive, must intoxicate the masses.