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Fear of poetry waning, and the Globe opens the Bök on lipograms

The Huffington Post has taught Quillblog a new word. “Metrophobia” is not an aversion to riding the Paris subway or to well-coiffed men; it refers to a fear of poetry. And apparently, this affliction is on the decline in America. Kim Rosen writes that after a few generations in which the American public retreated from poetry, the tide seems to be turning:

Finally, it seems, we are rising from the sick-bed of Metrophobia, and returning to poetry. Signs of health begin to accrue. Hundreds of thousands of teens throughout the U.S. choose to learn classical and modern poems by heart and practice together for Poetry Out Loud, a national recitation competition. Slam, jam, Def, Hip Hop and rap poets tell it like it is on TV, YouTube, radio waves, and the stages of basement coffeehouses and national theaters. A major Hollywood release of the 2009 holiday season, Invictus, is about Nelson Mandela and how he was saved by a poem. Even our own president is reported to turn to Urdu poetry for sustenance.

Granted, this is still nowhere near the popular acceptance poetry enjoys in the Middle East “ where Rosen points out that the most popular television show, an American Idol-style poetry competition called The Million’s Poet, has become such a sensation that it launched a television station exclusively devoted to poetry “ but it’s an encouraging sign nonetheless.

Here in Canada, metrophobia has not seemed to affect the sales of Christian Bök’s experimental poem Euonia, which Coach House Books re-released at the end of last year in an expanded edition. In The Globe and Mail, resident logophile Warren Clemens uses the reissue of Bök’s volume as an opportunity to examine the literary tradition of employing lipograms in writing:

Bök, inspired by earlier writers who operated with severe, self-imposed formal restraints, set himself the challenge of using only one of the vowels in each chapter. Pieces from which certain letters are excluded are called lipograms, which has nothing to do with the great Chinese poet Li Po but derives from the Greek lipogrammatis (lacking a letter), blending leipein (leave) and gramma (letter).

Wordsmith Robert Hendrickson, a fount of information on the subject, says the first creator of lipograms was the Greek lyric poet Lasus in 548 BC, but the text that really knocked everyone’s socks off was Odyssey of Tryphiodorus, a Greek work containing 26 books, each of which left out one letter from A to Z. In 1969, French author Georges Perec wrote La Disparition (translated by Gilbert Adair as A Void), which contained no e in the text. Ernest Vincent Wright had achieved the same result in his 1939 book, Gadsby: Champion of Youth.