Monday, October 27, 2008

News from the Center of American Poetry


I receive in the mail a cream-colored envelope from the Academy of American Poets in New York, New York. In the lower left-hand corner, this quote from Walt Whitman: “To have great poets, there must be great audiences…”

The bundle of paper inside is about what you expect: sophisticated panhandling.

First, a letter from the Chairman. “Dear Friend,” it reads. What follows is a petition for my Membership in an organization founded well over seventy years ago by Marie Bullock, who was “outraged” by the fact that poets were not given time off from their jobs to give readings—jobs such as “soda-fountain jerk” or “salesman in a clothing store.” A rather confident letter.

As a member, among other perks, you get copies of books awarded by the Academy, “a valued edition to your personal library.” Join at a higher level (“which will bring you closer to the center of the American poetry world”) and you get a DVD. About poets.

By now I am dismayed.

But look, a letter from Donald Hall, author of the great Anti-Institutional essay "Poetry and Ambition" (1983), telling me poetry “requires institutions to give it a presence in the public world.”

Here is a brochure on all the Programs the Academy sponsors: awards, book clubs, websites, events, and prizes, prizes, prizes. I feel ill.

Finally, the bottom line: check a box next to a dollar amount. American Poetry accepts Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. This donation puts your name on Annual Reports. The return envelope has paid postage—though a first-class stamp will “help keep costs down.”

Whitman’s dream. But how did Whitman get my name and address?

1 comment:

Jill said...

I get solicitations like this all the time, and I wonder the same thing--is it because I got my Masters in a writing program? Most likely. But it still creeps me out. I guess there are worse things I receive in the mail...