How much poetry can $200 million dollars buy?
Ten years ago the demented heir to the Lilly drug company fortune donated $200 million to the magazine "Poetry". When younger, Ruth Lilly had sent her poems to the venerable little magazine, and been rejected. Out of spite, she bequeathed
"Poetry" a fortune.
Reading poetry in this country is far less popular than entering an egg-kicking race, and that is a sport that has yet to be invented. Our colleges spew forth legions who call themselves "poets". And yet there are no readers. There are a few platitudinous Pulitzer winners who have some audience for their work, which is easily understood since they write the same thing over and over.
Surely $200 million could buy another Yeats. Or a dozen Frosts. Poetry brought to you by Prozac, Eli Lilly's big winner. Leave it to Americans to meld Big Pharma onto what is now a minor art.
But if nothing else, this country believes in the power of money. So once again. What can $200 million buy?
I went to the "Poetry" website to find out.
I was looking for a poem that could stand beside the best we have. Something that aspired to be as great as W.B. Yeat's "John Kinsellas's Lament for Mrs. Mary Moore".
I found a poem called "Saltine". It was about the cracker and its 13 little holes all lined up in a row. At the end it drew some conclusion about crackers vs Southern Crackers, but it was hard to be certain of this, and it was hard to care anyway.
Perhaps $200 million could at least buy a decent line. Something as good as Auden's "The lion griefs loped from the shade, and on our knees their muzzles laid, and Death put down his book".
How about this line:
"Ragazzi everywhere, the pus in their pimples pushing up like paperwhites in the mid-day sun".
It sounds as though someone needs to give "Poetry" another $200 million.