On Poetry: I and You

David Orr in the New York Times Book Review:

Poets who write only poetry are like musicians who play only cowbell: oddly cool, but mostly just odd. More typically, poets work on their poems alongside an array of literary and quasi-literary projects, from novels (Hardy) to plays (Yeats) to libretti (Dryden) to art reviews (John Ashbery) to advertising slogans for Lay’s Potato Chips (James Dickey). Marianne Moore even once spent a month helping Ford come up with names for the car that was eventually christened the Edsel. (Moore’s suggestions included ”The Intelligent Whale,” so you can’t say the company didn’t get its money’s worth.) Yet while poets have excelled at a number of sidelines, they’ve done some of their sharpest work in a genre that’s often overlooked: the personal letter. Not all great poets are great letter writers, of course, but the correspondence of Pope, Keats, Rilke and many others is more than simply an interesting supplement to the poetic canon; without these letters, poetry as we know it wouldn’t exist.

More here.