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Voice: On April 15 celebrate National Poetry Day

April 12, 2001

In the preface to Bulfinch's "Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable," it is written: "… literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness."

The "Age of Fable" was published in 1855, a time when literature — especially poetry — was more appreciated than it is today.

Other nations revere their poets. The USA did not even have a hall of fame until a few years ago.

Earlier, however, the U.S. Postal Service began honoring our naiton's poets with its American poet postage stamp series. Among those honored have been Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Edna St. Vincent Millay, T.S. Eliot and Marianne Moore.

Those who enjoy poetry are being asked to "visit www.poets.org to nominate a poet for a future stamp and sign a petition for more stamps featuring American poets."

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Poetry has fallen into disfavor, I believe, because many poets try too hard to be clever and original. They no longer seek to communicate but to shock or mystify.

Instead of using sublimated thoughts, the modern poet too often writes about base topics. He uses Vulgate, even vulgar language. His thinking is disarticulated, his writing fractured. Instead of looking for hidden meanings, the average reader, if he persists in reading through a maze of mystifying metaphors, and language usually inscribed on public restroom walls, finds the poem meaningless.

The purpose of language is to communicate. Until modern poetry took over, poetry was lofty, and yet it was easy to read. It communicated to heart, mind and spirit.

Many modern poets sacrifice the ability to touch the human spirit on the altar of intellectualism — they are more interested in creating mind puzzles, in confounding their readers — than communicating.

Yet how intelligent is it to write poetry that the lay person cannot understand — poetry that adds nothing of beauty or sublimity to our thought?

I'll celebrate National Poetry Day by rereading my three favorite poems: William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis," Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Renasence," and Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." Then I'll read selected poems by Thomas Hardy, William Blake, Emily Dickinson and Sara Teasdale, and the poetry-in-prose of Kahlil Gibran. I hope you will reread your favorite poems also.

MERRY HARRIS

El Centro

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