Monday, November 22, 2004

“All they do is give out awards. Greatest Fascist Dictator, Adolf Hitler.”

The Movie: Annie Hall, 1977 (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, screenwriters; Woody Allen, dir.)
Who says it: Woody Allen as Alvy Singer, a comedian and writer
The context: Alvy’s talking about the Los Angeles entertainment industry, as he’s losing his girlfriend Annie (Diane Keaton) to a music producer who’s about to get an award.
How to use it: It’s an accurate observation not only of Hollywood, but of several other subcultures as well.

Writers are great ones for giving awards to each other, and it annoys me. It's not as if most writers aren't self-obsessed, envious and miserable enough already -- and yes, I know plenty of exceptions, but these qualities are common enough (I include myself in the sample) to justify the stereotype.

But I thought about this recently as I was looking through a copy of The Best American Poetry 2004 -- it was reviewed in yesterday's New York Times, and I felt annoyed all over again. Poetry, of all things, is an area where prizes might matter, because no one gets rich writing poetry, except that woman who does all the greeting cards. Few Americans actually read modern poets, and those who do might well pick up this book -- as I did -- and then go looking for more work by some of the poets included.

If, that is, they liked the poems. This year's collection emphasizes "experimental" poetry, and quite a lot of it seems to be written for other poets to admire, not for someone like me to read.

It exasperates me beyond words. Too many poets whine about how no one reads poetry, and here's the one book all year that might bring people back to it, and it's not directed toward the casual reader at all.

Not to say that the poets in this book aren't deserving -- frankly, I don't know enough about poetry to be able to tell, and this book just reinforced that feeling.

It sent me right back to Yeats -- again -- and he's been dead for 65 years.


Anonymous said...

A perfect summary of my feelings about modern poetry, except I didn't even open the Times yesterday since the only part I read, the astronomy column was on the back page of the Sports section. Love, Dad.

Anonymous said...

Im pretty sure Stalin is considered the greatest fascist dictator.