John Waters: “A Filthy Poem Can Sing More Beautifully Than the Classics”


Leave it to John Waters to speak the truth about poetry in this New York Times roundup of famous folks’ favorite poems (ever, not just of this year). In a list consisting of Lena Dunham, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Donna Tartt, Alan Cumming, Ira Glass, Stephen King, and plenty more, Waters is the only one who chose something that was the least bit off-color, going with “David Cassidy Then” by Dennis Cooper, which is about winning a date with/giving a rim job to David Cassidy.

The others — Coates, King, and author Mo Willems aside — mostly went for the saccharine kind of stuff that makes the general public sneer when you tell them you’re a poet. But still, all poetry has its place, even if that place is a wedding ceremony.

A few telling selections: Tartt chose a “mysterious” poem by Rimbaud; Dunham chose a poem by Robert Lowell, which, to her, gives language to the subtle grief of long-term love; Tavi Gevinson chose a Brontë piece that assisted with her mourning of her younger self. These are all great poems, and the beauty of poetry is that “poetry” means hardly anything. So it’s a shame that much of what is found on this list buys into what poetry has meant, rather than what it could mean.

But, hey. Any news is good news when it comes to poetry. Read our recent interview with Waters here.