Guest Post: Poisoned Bait by C. Wade Bentley

Don’t get me wrong—I like poetry. I write it and read it and listen to it. A lot. And that puts me among a very tiny minority of humans. No one is clamoring for more poetry. Poetry is more available and accessible today than it has ever been, and yet it never goes viral. Go to a poetry reading and you can call it a crowd if there are more audience members than readers; and probably they were serving wine. Publish a book of your best poems and, if you’re lucky and have a large extended family, you’ll sell a hundred copies. The best poets, the rock star poets, still have to teach and travel and retreat, have to hawk their wares like satellite-dish salespersons, in order to make it. The poetry world today, for the most part, is peopled by other poets. Ergo, this:

Poetry Won’t

Poetry won’t clear up your acne your chlamydia your grey skies poetry won’t save children or white rhinos or the depleted ozone layer it will not replace god or meaning or money won’t win you friends or get you sex poetry will not stop bullets or bullies or bigots or early- middle- late-onset dementia nor will it get refugees across the ocean safely it won’t transfigure asshats or douchebags or cause humanity as a whole to evolve into that Star Trek society that treats even Tribbles ethically. No, it won’t. I see you—poets, mostly—ready with your rejoinders, your pithy quotes from Rumi and Neruda, pens poised to write another poem about how poetry powers the heartbeat of the world and is responsible for the very prettiest of the pretty colors at sunrise/sunset and without it we would slip swiftly over the event horizon of the black hole that will surely appear once the last person stops reading poetry puts down that slim and incomprehensible volume of erasure poetry she found in the dustiest room at Powell’s and downloads instead the new Harry Potter audiobook narrated by the incomparable Jim Dale. Just stop. Poetry provides the poet a medium for spitting his mouthful of words it allows the rickety small-press lit-mag poetry-reading writers-conference biz to sputter righteously on while madly clapping to keep the fairies alive but yes okay fair enough it can also in fact bring comfort to those acquainted with grief it can use metaphor like a spade to turn over dark new soil in the garden and it can sit on the end of your nose like the glasses you didn’t know you needed until the day it was as if you saw that stupid unassuming red wheelbarrow again for the very first time. And that’s plenty good enough.


fire antSo, when I see Facebook posts and Twitter feeds and protest placards all proclaiming that poetry will save the world, that poets are the true heroes, that the pure suffering of poetic hearts everywhere will beat back the Anti-Poet and all of society’s ills, it makes me ill. It won’t. Poetry isn’t up to that. Poetry is not DDT to be sprayed over recalcitrant cornfields by low-flying planes. It’s not the Carter Center on the verge of wiping out guinea worm disease worldwide. Poetry works, when it works, from the inside out, micro to macro. Poetry is like the ant who eats poisoned bait and carries it back to the colony to be consumed by others. Maybe you sat in the audience at a Mark Strand reading and something he said lodged in an artery near your heart and will one day break free and go straight to your brain. Okay, let me try again. Poetry is the lending library on the corner. It’s the guy who gets his latté paid for at the Starbucks and then gets the next guy’s Frappuccino. It’s the police officer playing hoops with the kids in the hood.

I see the world differently because of poetry. That world is more raw and rich and heartbreaking and serendipitous because I carry the poetry parasite. I feed it my time and attention, my limited supply of passion, and it makes the world, my world, one I can just manage to make my way in.


C. Wade BentleyC. Wade Bentley teaches and writes in Salt Lake City. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as Black Fox Literary Magazine, Cimarron Review, Best New Poets, Rattle, Chicago Quarterly Review, Pembroke Magazine, and Poetry Northwest. A full-length collection of his poems, What Is Mine, was published by Aldrich Press in January of 2015. You may visit for complete information about his publications and awards.

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