Last night while Junior read four books to himself (not that I'm counting, but hallelujah, we have worked hard to get to that point), I caught up on a bit of the New Yorker's anniversary issue, including Dana Goodyear's look at the Poetry Foundation and the effect of Ruth Lilly's enormous financial gift ($200 million) to the group. The piece goes a long way toward portraying the organization as rudderless in a sea of too much money.
I know the Poetry Foundation only through its terrific web site. Given that its budget is a million dollars a year, it's bound to be good. Goodyear writes about the site, "It's a boon to poets—and to best men." Hmm. I think that's supposed to be funny, but instead seems condescending.
As part of the careening, overloaded money ship image, Goodyear points to the creation of the children's poet laureate post, underwritten by the Poetry Foundation. She quotes from Jack Prelutsky's "I Have a Pet Tomato," which does look really silly right there in the New Yorker, and notes that Prelutsky has published some 40 books. (Press pause for deconstruction: lotsa books + bad verse = something not too hard to do = 0.)
captain chairman of the board, a businessman poet, comes off as particularly naive, and that's putting it kindly. (Showing a poem written in some sort of Caribbean dialect to a national reporter is, well, ill-advised.) Many of the people now involved in the Foundation now come from business backgrounds.
The Foundation has its detractors, as one can imagine. The most scathing cannon (or should I say "canon"?) shot at the wayward vessel belongs to the poet J. D. McClatchy, editor of The Yale Review. He told Dana Goodyear,
"The aura of mediocrity has settled like a fog over the business of the foundation. The new awards, for example. It's not the winners who trouble me, it's the categories. Children's poetry? Funny poetry? If those are a way for the foundation to carve a niche for itself, it's a shallow one and too low down on the wall. It signals a lack of ambition and seriousness that may ultimately be fatal. Ironically, they risk marginalizing themselves by appealing to people who think of the 'Prairie Home Companion' as high art. It's the culture of sidebars, poems suitable for the fronts of tote bags. The foundation seems to want to promote poetry, the way you'd promote cereal or a sitcom."
To get the full context of the material I've been quoting, you need to read the article, which I found fascinating, if somewhat slanted. Then come back and tell me what you thought of "The Moneyed Muse," which ran in the Feb. 19 & 26 issue of The New Yorker.
The Poetry Foundation responded here.