Saturday, January 26, 2013

Poetry eulogy proves editors aren't obsolete

Call it the case of the edited blog. In the print version of The Washington Post, there was a sober meditation on the uses and popularity of poetry, in the paper's appropriately named blog site, Compost, there was a rant.

Obviously, the blog was the brain fart of one Alexandra Petri. This young woman who professes omniscience after all of three years out of Harvard (two years less than my younger son, a fellow former Cantabrigidian), rose (descended?) in 2010 from Post intern to Post blogger. I see her byline occasionally on the op-ed page when even Eugene Robinson has nothing left to say.

Her piece in this morning's printed paper, headlined "Ode to an Obsolete Art," offered an uncharacteristically humble and sober outtake from the fact of a poem being read at the second Obama inauguration.

She calls poetry "a field that may well be obsolete." Lest one take her for her usual smart-ass self, she then declares
I say this lovingly as a member of the print media. If poetry is dead, we are in the next ward wheezing noisily.
But sometimes I worry about poetry.
I was delighted, as a journalist of more than three decades, to see that she seems to be maturing.

Reviewing the literary form's history she makes obligatory stops by Homer and Shelley. Predictably, she completely elides past the ancient rhyming and metered forms as mnemonic artifacts in a world in which most history was oral.

I would give you a link, but the moribund Post forces you to sign in to see the printed paper online (how's that for not getting it?). I just couldn't bother.

But wait!

Online, in the Compost site I found not one but two pieces, the first "Is Poetry dead?" Here is an unedited version of what saw print. Colorful, lazy and flatulently narcissistic as all blogs are (this is not journalism, folks!)

Here is the Alexandra Petri her Post patron fell in love with, all-knowing and arrogant as ever ...
Still I think there is a question to be asked. You can tell that a medium is still vital by posing the question: Can it change anything?
Can a poem still change anything?
You'll also find that the millions who spend their time commenting on newspaper websites had already given her the just recompense by the time the printed piece appeared. In her follow-up blog post ('Poetry is not dead,' says poetry), she sheepily warns that saying "poetry is dead" will result in zealots "sonetting" on one's lawn.

Petri's follow-up is a semi-chastised, quirkily funny blogiad, fine as far as it goes, but still not journalism.

The moral of the story?

Clearly, editors aren't obsolete. They can turn an online rant into a thoughtful printed piece. Not quite the lesson she intended, yet true.