Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Illinois needs to pick a poet, but which one?



     The great Midwestern poet is, without question, Tom Eliot of St. Louis.
     What, never heard of Tom? Maybe you’ve been led astray by his phony British hauteur and borrowed high church Anglicanism. But T.S. Eliot, as he styled himself, is as Missouri born and bred as Buster Brown Shoes. Chicago’s Carl Sandburg just can’t compare.
     We could argue this. That’s one joy of loving poetry. You’re free to love what you love, though sometimes choices must be made. Such as when selecting a new Illinois poet laureate — submissions are being accepted until Aug. 15. I limned the parameters of the job in my column Monday. Now I’m wondering who’s in the running.
     I discussed this with Mark Eleveld, a member of the search committee.
     “To me, it’s a no-brainer: Marc Smith,” said Eleveld. “He’s such an outsider. Marc provoked and stoked the fires.”
     Smith is not only a prolific poet, but in the mid-1980s he created the Uptown Poetry Slam. The Slam pried the fingers of Received Pronunciation toffs like Eliot from poetry’s throat and let it sing, returning it to its dramatic roots, sensual and gritty.
     Eleveld is biased — he’s Smith’s friend. I’m biased too. Smith has invited me to be featured speaker at the Slam, twice. So I thought I’d better check with a neutral party: Tony Fitzpatrick, poet, artist and notorious truth-teller.
     It should be Smith, right?


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2 comments:

  1. Eliot was my favorite poet for about 15 minutes, back when I was a kid who cared about that kind of thing. I didn't know about his antisemitism, but it doesn't surprise me. After all, his mentor was Ezra Pound, a card-carrying vicious anti-Semite who did pro-Mussolini radio broadcasts during the war.

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  2. Eliot also wrote some entertaining pornography. But, of course, that is not what he will be remembered for. Hard to find any great pre-WW II British or American author (George Eliot perhaps) not tainted with anti-Semitism.

    Tom

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