Why Poetry Should Be Abolished

Ulf Kirchdorfer Professor, Darton State College
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Thank God Halloween is over and the elections, too, and we can get back to business as usual. Well, not quite. You see, as part of our celebration of Halloween at our college, the English honor society had a marathon reading of works that remotely, or better, closely, were scary, spooky, i.e., suitable for public Halloween consumption.

I chose to read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” you know, the long poem by Coleridge where you don’t know exactly who is speaking, but it has that famous couplet, “Water, water, every where / Nor any drop to drink.” It is used by people when they want to engage in some dramatic display of learning, maybe giving a speech at the local Rotary, throwing it in for good measure, while people are spooning their banana pudding dessert. And I will admit that having an albatross around one’s neck is something part of the population has heard of, even those who know nothing about Monty Python.

But let’s really face it, poetry is not something most of the world reads, and think about it, poetry does not build bridges or help out with any of the important progress we are working on in STEM. And when is the last time you needed a colonoscopy and the doctor said, no, just go home and read some Robert Frost, no need to sedate you and insert a tube, etc. And try running your car off poetry. You are out of luck, buddy!

So poetry is pretty useless, unless you need something to toast a bride and groom, besides a glass and alcohol, and poetry comes in handy maybe at funerals, so those left behind can hear something that makes them feel smart or stupid, or likely, it is something they don’t know the meaning of, while the person lying there dead in the coffin or in the urn takes a backseat.

My focus here is not poetry in secondary education, but suffice it to say that getting rid of poetry in the schools will make life easier for many teachers too. No need to read up online (oh the good old days of Cliffs Notes bound in a paper cover of yellow and black) to figure out just what to do when teaching the kids this thing called “poetry.” And the kids won’t be tortured anymore by having to memorize what symbolism means or what one instance of symbolism is in the poem. The kids will be able to focus on reading and writing and doing arithmetic, and it should be said that the reading and writing should all be about facts that are indisputable. None of that ambiguity found in poetry. Why, come to think of it, ambiguity is outright un-American! Unpatriotic! Fast forward to college, because that is where poetry has absolutely no place.

Poetry has no place in college for so many reasons, all of which space unfortunately does not permit me to go into. But college is the place individuals go to train for a career. And how many people last time you checked were really making a decent or any kind of living off poetry. Unless you are Billy Collins — and some people snarl when he is mentioned in the same breath as poetry — you are going to have to do something else to make a living while writing, since you aren’t really adding to our Gross National Product. If anything, many of those “poets” suck off the taxpayers and others by getting all sorts of financial assistance in the name of making poetry.

Besides not preparing college students for careers, poetry is extremely dangerous, because it teaches students to challenge authority and commonly accepted ideas. You remember the “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Tennyson. While it should encourage, if read the right way, youngsters to go fight for their country, no questions asked, and be ready to serve as cannon fodder, the poem actually puts silly ideas in students’ heads, such as asking if going off to fight, no questions asked, is a good idea.

And let’s face it, poetry is damn hard to read. First of all, the short lines make no sense whatsoever, your brain just short-circuits when you look at the format, and all those pages wasted in thick anthologies that could have been filled up with ink to the margins about something real, like how to make weapons, become a billionaire, and exploit other countries (some would say these terms go hand-in-hand or are interchangeable).

And even including some of those poems that are fairly straight forward, like those by that Robert Frost guy. Do we really need to waste valuable time discussing whether taking one path instead of the other makes a difference? Or worse, if trying to understand the poem this way is not the route to take? Better to work a couple extra math problems in that amount of time.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is another ridiculous poem many of us are familiar with. After being all confused, the college students finally manage to learn that this Prufrock guy is one miserable man. But the poem is so long, and it took such a long time to establish this? People already know there is misery in the world and you can just go see a doctor for ten minutes and get a prescription. The hours saved by not wading through Alfred’s nausea with his trousers rolled up on the beach! And speaking of misery, why isn’t the poetry stuff in the anthologies fun? Who needs all this downer-stuff when you can follow the stock market or just have your boss, be it an executive of a corporation or a shift leader in the factory, yell at you?

No, my friends just coming off Halloween and the elections, it is time we seriously consider eliminating poetry from the curriculum. College students’ financial aid already has them set up for a life of servitude whether or not they graduate and they can save hours not reading about the albatross around their neck, time that could be spent learning Excel or at the very least typing with all fingers so they quickly can produce advertising copy for stuff people really, really, need to buy. We certainly don’t need, as is described the wedding guest, “A sadder and a wiser man, / He rose the morrow morn.