HOW TO START A POETRY EPIDEMIC – by Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

Cheers, fellow cosmic wanderers! For all of you who thirst for beauty and crave for poetry, I’ve selected some precious words from Joseph Brodsky’s essay “An Immodest Proposal” which might just nourish and enchant ya’. It’s filled with funny and imaginative ideas on how to kickstart an Epidemic of Poetry in our often grayish urban landscapes, pumping up our expressive skills, creative faculties and overall rate of epiphanies. Brodsky jokes around with the plan of widespread production and consumption of condensed human creativity as a means to plant the seeds of collective evolution and linguistic metamorphosis. These excerpts were extracted from On Grief and Reason (New York, 1995, Farrar Straus Giroux), which is truly a pet-book in my personal library and one of the most cherished treasures I brought with me as souvenirs from Toronto’s BMV Books, a place which deserves a ton of heartfelt “bravos!”. Voilá:

 Brodsky“Poetry must be available to the public in far greater volume than it is. It should be as ubiquitous as the nature that surrounds us, and from which poetry derives many of its similes; or as ubiquitous as gas stations, if not as cars themselves. Bookstores should be located not only on campuses or main drags but at the assembly plant’s gates also. Paperbacks of those we deem classics should be cheap and sold at supermarkets. This is, after all, a country of mass production, and I don’t see why what’s done for cars can’t be done for books of poetry, which take you quite a bit further…”

* * * * *

“Moreover, if the government would recognize that the construction of your library is as essential to your inner vocation as business lunches are to the outer, tax breaks could be made available to those who read, write or publish poetry. The main loser, of course, would be the Brazilian rain forest. But I believe that a tree facing the choice between becoming a book of poems or a bunch of memos may well opt for the former.”

* * * * *

“In my view, books shoud be brought to the doorstep like electricity, or like milk in England: they should be considered utilities, and their cost should be appropriately minimal. Barring that, poetry could be sold in drugstores (not least because it might reduce the bill from your shrink). At the very least, an anthology of American poetry should be found in every room in every motal in the land, next to the Bible, which will surely not object to this proximity, since it does not object to the proximity of the phone book.”

* * * * *

“Poetry is the supreme form of human locution in any culture. By failing to read or listen to poets, a society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation – of the politician, or the salesman, or the charlatan – in short, to its own. It forfeits, in other worlds, its own evolutionary potential, for what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is precisely the gift of speech. The charge frequently leveled against poetry – that it is difficult, obscure, hermetic, and whatnot – indicates not the state of poetry but, frankly, the rung of the evolutionary ladder on which society is stuck.”

* * * * *

“If nothing else, reading poetry is a process of terrific linguistic osmosis. It is also a highly economical form of mental acceleration. Within a very short space a good poem covers enormous mental ground, and often, toward its finale, provides one with an epiphany or a revelation. That happens because in the process of composition a poet employs – by and large unwittingly – the two main modes of cognition available to our species: Occidental and Oriental.  (…) In other words, a poem offers you a sample of complete, not slanted, human intelligence at work.”

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Read also some of his poems:
Song of Welcome and Verses in April