We all know the downside. And we think we know the upside. But I, for one, feel that shameless self-promotion of poets and poetry needs to be widened in its definition, expanded beyond the confines of publication credits, book awards and academic appointments and honors. It needs to drive toward the center of the culture, not just the noble fringes.
For example, last night's Oscars struck me as having some notes of class not commonly found in an Oscar event -- namely, a first-rate dance troupe interpreting the movie titles. As a former dancer, I've long been a Pilobolus fan. I also like The Pickle Family Circus, and have even been known to get on a bongo board, but that's another story.
But where was Billy Collins to give us, at intermissions, a wry take on famous lines from past Oscar-winning movies? Or Robert Pinsky to simply read "The Shirt", staring with his amazing deadpan at the camera, after one of those really goofy moments with a starlet overspilling her dress and her lines?
Poets need to be more inventive as a group with getting into the shameless self-promotion act. We need to co-opt a celebrity or two. I will never forget the night I was introduced to a Hollywood producer at a dinner, and when I admitted to being a poet, he retorted, "There's a lot of money in that." I think he thought it was witty, but is that really how we want to be top-of-mind portrayed in the culture --- if they portray us at all?
I'm calling for a bombardment of Hollywood with poems. I say send them so many poems they begin to think of ways to put them in movies. And not just bad movies about blocked writers, but mainstream movies, where -- as in real life -- when things happen that move people, they call up their poet friends and ask for good poems for the wedding, the wake, the anniversary, the birthday party, the death of a dog. I say plaster poems on the bathroom walls of the of the best restaurants in cities across America, but especially L.A. and New York, until they unconsciously imbibe the rhythms and heightened language and feeling, and begin reproducing poems in tv ads. Then we will have shamelessly self-promoted in a really good way.