In his essay “A Yeti In the District”, poet Donald Hall describes a life time of trips to Washington, DC. The last one, in 2011, was made so he could receive the National Medal of Arts. He describes the event and the joy it brought him in some detail.
But, as Hall comments at the end of his essay, there was anticlimax. The photo taken of him–an aged wizardly looking man with a big grin on his face–was used by Alexandra Petri, a Washington Post columnist, for a “caption contest” where readers were encouraged to describe the photo. The entries were for the most part rude and derogatory of a man who once served as Poet Laureate and was being recognized for a lifetime of work. Petri was criticized by many for her loutish column but rather than apologizing, she chose to attack Sarah Palin, one of her critics. I know we live in a time when it seems as though everyone is easily offended, but Petri’s treatment of Hall is, in my humble opinion, beyond the pale, one I hope she remembers when her own youthful good looks have fled.
In a sort of ongoing battle with poets and poetry, Petri continued her attack in an article in 2013 about the potential death of poetry after Richard Blanco’s 2013 inaugural poem was widely criticized.
I am determined now, more than ever, to make a place for poetry in my life. It speak to emotions and experiences we cannot otherwise touch.
In a sad note, Hall is no longer able to write poetry, just one of the many diminishments he describes is his Essays After Eighty in which “A Yeti In the District” appears.