Hey everyone, I hope you had a good weekend!
For those of you who may have missed my post yesterday, it’s Banned Book Week right now, and I’m posting everyday until the end of the week. Since I typically do Poetry Prompt Monday’s, I figured in honor of Banned Books Week, let’s talk about some poetry that has been banned/challenged and why!
This post is not just going to be about only poetry books, though. In fact, I only have one poetry book on here. To keep things…exciting… I’ll be doing a mix of singular poems, books, and poets.
So, settle down with a nice cup of your preferred drink of choice, and lets talk poetry.
“Howl” by Allen Ginsburg
This specific poem by Ginsburg has been banned, and even led to the arrests of his publisher and bookseller for distributing the poem. It first came out in 1955, and was deemed obscene due to its references to drug use and sexual practices of both heterosexual and homosexual nature.
In 1957, a widely publicized obscenity trial was held for “Howl”, where nine literary experts defended the poem, and the judge ultimately agreed with them, deeming it of “redeeming social importance”.
Later on, the case was documented in the book Howl of the Censor by Jake Ehrlich (the lead defense attorney of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the publisher who was arrested for distributing the poem), as well as the film Howl (2010) starring James Franco.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein is a well known and beloved collection of children’s poetry published in 1974. I have vague memories of reading his stuff during elementary school during the early 2000s, but between 1983-1993, the book faced many bans across the nation, as many deemed it inappropriate for children because it “promotes drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for authority, and rebellion against parents.”
His book, A Light in the Attic has also been banned, for similar reasons, but also because some of the poems “glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism”, as well as promoting supernatural themes such as “demons, devils, and ghosts” . One specific poem, “Little Abigail and the Pony” led to the book being banned from Fruitland Park Elementary in Florida because Abigail dies at the end (Sorry… Spoiler Alert). My favorite reason for A Light in the Attic being banned is from Cunningham Elementary in Wisconsin, stating “It encourages children to break the dishes so that they don’t have to dry them”.
Another reason some have said Silverstein’s work is inappropriate doesn’t have to do with the work itself, but because of Silverstein himself. Before publishing children’s poetry, he drew cartoons for Playboy magazine, which made many believe that he was including inappropriate themes in his works on purpose.
The poetic works of Sappho
You may have heard of Sappho (c. 610 BCE- c. 570 BCE), as she is famously known as having lived on the island of Lesbos, and her affairs with women (Lesbian means a resident of the island of Lesbos, and because of Sappho, came to its modern meaning. The word sapphic also is derived from Sappho’s name ).
The themes of her work were mainly discussing romantic longing and her affairs with women. It was viewed as obscene and controversial, but the Library of Alexandria held nine collections of her work, before the library was burned down. Even though the Library of Alexandria burned down, Sappho’s poetry still lived on, so in 380 A.D. it was ordered to be burned by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Bishop from Constantinople). Then in 1078, Pope Gregory VII ordered a public burning of her works, and it was believed that all of her work, except one poem, was destroyed. By then, her work was mostly spread by other writers quoting her work in their texts. However, in 1898, a group of scholars found more fragments of her work, and more has been found since then.
If you want to check out more poetry books that have been banned, or just do a little further research, here are the websites I used when writing this post:
What do you think of the reasons that these works of poetry have been banned? What are some other works of poetry that you know have been banned? Let me know in the comments below!
Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this post, and I will see you tomorrow with something new!
If interested, you can donate to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom
You can also sign the petition for the Literature Locked Up campaign: Tell Congress: Stop the largest book ban in America
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