Poets, Inc.

Wesley Yang in The Boston Globe:

1136656201_1699Three years ago, a pharmaceutical heiress made Poetry magazine, the venerable monthly that discovered T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore, the richest literary journal in the history of the world. The sum of $175 million, given by Ruth Lilly, made the subject of poetry into news fit to print in just about every newspaper in America.

The sum’s vastness enticed some poets into imaginative flight. The poet Rafael Campo rhapsodized in an opinion piece in the Globe that a ”Poetry Palace” built with the gift might come to house ”factory workers and firefighters, immigrants, and descendents of slaves,” and that ”such a rich community of poetry-lovers could truly repair this broken planet.” In the London Independent, Campbell McGrath had a more modest but (as it turns out) no less fanciful wish: ”I hope that, as much as possible, Poetry will find a way to call up individual poets and say, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but we’re going to give you money.”‘

Of course, some in the literary world have declined to get caught up in the excitement. ”We have thousands of very bad poets in the USA. There are also 20 or so good ones,” writes eminent Yale critic Harold Bloom in a recent e-mail. ”All that money should be used to fight poverty and illness here and abroad.”

The coverage, by turns dutiful and bemused, threw into sharp relief the wider culture’s neglect of poetry. That so many could hope for so much from Ruth Lilly’s gift-about as much as it cost to make ”Waterworld”-showed how humble are the art form’s worldly expectations.

More here.