Getting Poetry Back to the People

Yesterday New St. Andrews had the great privilege of hosting Chris Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine, as he addressed us all at our weekly Disputatio. His talk and answers during the Q&A were really informative, and the reading he did of some of his poems was just fabulous. Our Aaron Rench has an interview with him in the current issue of Books & Culture, which should be online sometime soon. Check that out when it comes out — great interview.


While he was here, we got the opportunity to visit with him in some detail about his vision for the Poetry Foundation, which I would like to commend to you enthusiastically. For example, they have recently instituted a recitation contest for high school students which (in my view) promises to rival events like the National Spelling Bee for numbers. This year’s finals were just completed, and I would urge Christian schools and homeschoolers to check out this contest for next year. Now is the time to start memorizing and practicing.


This is all part of a concerted push to restore poetry to the people. In what follows, I am saying this in my own words, not Wiman’s, but I believe that his work and vision is an important part of a desperately needed restoration. Through various circumstances, we have got ourselves into the cul de sac where poets write for other poets, getting published in journals with a circulation of seventeen, instead of writing for the people. And the people for their part have responded by walking away from that elite guild of poets in disgust. In order to bring about a reconciliation, we all need to recognize that poets are simply people who are good at a particular task, not unlike the plumber, and they need to be brought back to the idea of service. If our plumbers thought the way the elite guild of poets does, our pipes would be just like our poems — leaking all over the place. And in some parts of the country, like Manhattan, the basements are all flooded and nobody seems to care.


But there are real signs of hope from within the heart of the poetry establishment. Check out this important work.

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