DANGEROUS POETS

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“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” Joseph Brodsky

Well life happened – as it usually does until it doesn’t – and I missed Banned Book Week, September 25- October 1 – but it’s never too late to ponder banning and the unreason that often leads to it. One of the more humorous examples is:

How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes

If you have to dry the dishes
(Such an awful boring chore)
If you have to dry the dishes
(‘Stead of going to the store)
If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor
Maybe they won’t let you
Dry the dishes anymore

– Shel Silverstein from A Light in the Attic (Harper Collins, 1981)

I wouldn’t blame you if you are surprised to think that a work by the recipient of a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award and two Grammy Awards would be banned. Consider also that Shel Silverstein’s books have been translated into thirty languages and have sold over twenty-million copies. He may have written for children but adults are enamoured of his writing too. So why was A Light in the Attic banned? According to Cunningham Elementary School in Wisconsin, Shel’s book would encourage children to break dishes in order to avoid having to dry them. Apparently some people are missing a funny bone.

Ginsberg’s Howl was famously condemned as obscenity. Publisher Lawrence Ferlighetti and City Light’s Bookstore Manager Shig Murao were arrested, Ferlighetti for publishing obscene literature and Murao for selling it.  There was a protracted and very public trial. Ultimately, it was determined that the book was protected under Freedom of Speech. The judge also pronounced the book “not obscene.” Here is a clip Howl, a movie about the trial. James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg.

If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to click through to the site to view the video.

Not too long ago we celebrated the life and work of Gwendolyn Brooks.  In this video she reads her poem We Real Cool and explains why some chose to ban it …

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Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was withdrawn from libraries for “explicit language. Six poems from Les Fleurs du mal by French poet Charles Baudelaire were considered an insult to public decency.  Baudelaire and his publisher were fined and the poems suppressed. The Roman poet Ovid’s Ars Amatoria – essentially a relationship guide in a series of three books compossed in elegiac couplets – was considered “licentious.”  Some speculate that Ovid was banished from Rome for it.

Some poets suffer worse than banishment, banning and fines.  PEN America reports HERE (scroll down) on writers and poets around the world who are on trial, imprisoned or murdered for the perspectives revealed in their work. Such poets often remind us of social injustices that remain simmering but unaddressed in a back corner of our minds. They create awareness of current injustices and inspire us to act. They call on us to hold ourselves and the powerful to account, often pointing out the ways in which we are complicit. That these poets and their work are found so threatening is a testimony to the power of words. There’s some solace in that.

© 2016, Jamie Dedes; illustration in the public domain

 

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2 thoughts on “DANGEROUS POETS

  1. Love how you kicked this off with Shel Silverstein and reveal how wrong-headed some Defenders of Decency can be.

    Frank Zappa, no stranger to censorship, talks insightfully about his struggles in the documentary EAT THIS QUESTION: FRANK ZAPPA IN HIS OWN WORDS. I recommend it as a supplement to this fine article.

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