I always start planning my Halloween costume early. Sometimes, though, I have trouble coming up with an idea that really represents me and what I care about, while still being fun and hip. Luckily, Poets.org has a convenient list of Easy Poet Costume Ideas.
For a Whitman costume, they suggest:
A simple collared shirt
A floppy brown hat
They also recommend hiding butterflies in your beard and rolling in the grass. I might suggest carrying a lilac or two.
The idea here, I guess, is to make poetry fun and youthful? That’s certainly a noble goal. But on some level, suggesting that girls dress up as Emily Dickinson for Halloween seems strange. (Aren’t girls supposed to dress as scantily as possible for Halloween, anyway? Dickinson is decidedly un-sexy.)
I guess what bothers me is how institutional the whole thing feels. Like when your mother gives you a Barry Manilow CD for Christmas and says something like, “I thought you’d like it.” If we’re trying to bring Whitman–or poetry at large–to the youthful masses, is this really productive?
If a member of their target audience had put this together, I’d imagine the lineup would be much different. How many people my age really love Sappho? Enough to dress up as her for Halloween? Poe makes sense on a Halloween list, but where’s Charles Bukowski or Allen Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac? Where’s Nikki Giovanni or Maya Angelou? For better or worse, I think my generation is more in tune with (or at least more aware of) these poets than with Williams. I’m not saying Poets.org should pander to a certain demographic, but that seems to be what they’ve set out to do, and they’ve done it badly.
Or maybe I’m completely off the mark, and they’re trying to get my mom to read poetry. In which case I can only say, “Good luck.”