Who Reads Poetry: 50 views from Poetry Magazine
University of Chicago Press (Footprint), $49.99 hb, 215 pp, 9780226504766
So, who reads poetry? American military cadets, that’s who. And medical specialists. Also, songwriters, journalists, and philosophers. And don’t forget (ex-) poets, priests, and politicians (to quote Sting). But let’s get back to those military cadets. What does poetry do for them? Who Reads Poetry gives us a number of possible answers. When Jeffrey Brown, a senior correspondent for PBS’s NewsHour, asked a poetry class in West Point (the US military academy) about the link between reading poetry and becoming a military officer, one cadet answered that poetry, and art generally, is required because ‘we’re all here training to take lives’. Another argued that poetry is necessary to learning about becoming a leader. Lieutenant General William James Lennox Jr, who also has an essay in Who Reads Poetry, was once the superintendent at West Point. For him, poetry is taught there, in part, because combat leaders ‘must rely on their own morality, their own creativity, their own wits’.