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To help round out a week of waiting anxiously for election results, I invited Faith Hill from The Atlantic’s special projects team to talk about the new poems we’ve been publishing online each week, work that defies the sometimes-reputation of poetry as “inscrutable,” “precious,” “self-indulgent.”
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A lot of people tell me they don’t like poetry. As a poetry lover myself, this is something I’ve had to come to terms with: It’s often deemed “inscrutable,” or “precious,” or “self-indulgent.” A poet is seen either as brilliant but unreachable to the many, or popular but insubstantial. As Louise Glück, the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, once said, “When I’m told I have a large readership, I think, ‘Oh great, I’m going to turn out to be Longfellow’: someone easy to understand, easy to like, the kind of diluted experience available to many.”
But I don’t think the binary is a real one. Glück proves that herself: Her poetry appeals broadly, but it’s still complex and challenging.
The Atlantic has been publishing poetry since its earliest years—including, in fact, “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in 1861. More recently, we’ve renewed that commitment: I curate three poems each month—either newly commissioned or plucked from our vast archives—to publish along with the monthly poem in the print magazine. My greatest hope for the weekly poems is to reach even more people with works that are rich and beautiful and smart and thorny. Not every Atlantic reader needs to be a “poetry person”; not every poet needs to be a Longfellow. But ramping up our digital poetry feels to me like a symbolic gesture as well as a practical one, for longtime subscribers of our print magazine as well as our new readers online: Here, try some poetry. We think you’re going to like it.
For Susannah Mushatt Jones, 1899–2016
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