Black Lawrence Press
April 3, 2012

Best “Letter to the Editor” Ever

Sit back and enjoy Associate Editor Kent Leatham’s on-point response to David Orr’s recent essay in the NY Times:

Reading Transtromer

Published: March 22, 2012

To the Editor:

I can think of nothing less true than David Orr’s concluding statement in his discussion of various translations of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Tomas Transtromer (“On Poetry: Versions,” March 11): “We read poetry for entertainment, not nutritional value.”

Not only is poetry today not being read for entertainment (as its lack of sales on any best-seller list will attest, not to mention its once-a-month-if-we’re-lucky appearance in The Times Book Review), but poetry as a genre has never been meant to be non-nutritive. Challenging, perhaps. Hard to translate with accuracy, certainly. But Marshmallow Fluff?

Poetry “begins in delight and ends in wisdom” (Robert Frost). It reclaims the “awareness of the world” (Allen Ginsberg). It strikes the reader “as a wording of his own highest thoughts” (John Keats). “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses” (John F. Kennedy).

Transtromer, a trained psychologist (as Orr notes) who has worked with convicts, addicts and the disabled, described his poetry as seeking “a kind of meaning in being present, in using reality, . . . in making something of it.” Surely this approach suggests a literary nutritional value of the highest Recommended Dietary Allowance, not the empty calories of superficial entertainment.

KENT LEATHAM

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