Making Poetry Relevant In America With A Glee-Like TV Series
Percy Shelley called poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” which at various times and in many places they truly were. Robert Frost said “poetry is a way of taking life by the throat,” and also opined that “poetry is the best possible way of saying almost anything,” Both these views are also certainly true. Which raises this question: In America today, why doesn’t poetry exercise its power to shape legislation, grab more lives by the throat, and be recognized as the best possible way to say so many things?
I think I know the answer. It just hasn’t yet found the right packaging in the right medium.
For years I thought that medium might be the Op Ed pages of newspapers. A foolish notion. These days the Op Ed pages at most large dailies are just dumping grounds for endless repetitions of conventional ideas and opinions by think tank hirelings, out-of-work pols, and the occasional local college academic. Unconventional views are disdained. Currently out-of-fashion modes of expression like poetry totally beyond consideration.
I felt a comparable incompatibility existed when it came to poetry and television. Then the Fox show “Glee” came along and now I think otherwise.
The plotline of “Glee mixes song and dance by talented young people in a long unpopular high school backwater (glee clubs) with the personal angst and romantic attachments of the show’s players. This offbeat mixture has spawned a slew of knockoffs on other channels. More importantly, it has mightily raised interest in a too long ignored part of our educational system and the kids who participate in it.
What a wonderful template for a show about a group of poets. Take a half dozen of them, each an updated version of a great poet past — like a seemingly simple working man with religious poetic visions (Blake); a very plain looking homebody who everyone ignores until she hesitantly recites her poetry (Dickinson); an experience hungry self-promoter who has traveled everywhere in America and been touched by everything he’s seen (Whitman); an angry howler against a society he thinks has gone totally nuts (Ginsberg); a hedonistic pleasure seeker (St. Vincent Millay).
Let the lives and works of a group like this play out separately and against each other — the way it does on “Glee.” These poets would not expect fame and certainly not fortune from their art, of course, they just can’t seem to stop loving words. Throw in contests that could actually generate money (slams), and more commonplace readings where the pain flows freely when the readers outnumber the audience. Keep the project out of the hands of academics. Maybe call the show “Rhyme.”
We’ve got a lot of ranting in this country. A lot of spin doctoring. A lot of promo and hype. What we don’t have a lot of, what we need, is a lot more poetry. A really well thought out TV show might be the mechanism to get that. Gleefully.
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