A nation without poets. Could there by anything sadder?
Well, not exactly a nation. Monaco is more of a resort -- a kingdom by the sea, or rather a principality. It stretches across a whole couple of kilometers of scenic coastline on the French Riviera. Call it the land, or at least acre, that care forgot. Monaco's only problem at the moment is that it's poetless.
That's right. According to the Cultural Olympiad being staged in London as a kind of counterpoint to this summer's Olympic Games, Monaco still has no entry in the poets' category, not a one.
That's according to one of the Wall Street Journal's regular Page 1 stories devoted to the lighter side of the news. Although they may touch on the sad, not to say tragic, aspects of the human circus on occasion. And what could be sadder than a land without poets?
It's not as if Monaco is the only place in the world deprived of poets, or at least of the Have Poetry, Will Travel sort willing to join the multitudes converging on London this summer.
Seven other countries are also officially poetless at the moment: Brunei, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Liechtenstein, the Seychelles, and the Pacific island outposts of Palau and Vanuatu.
Monaco has all of 31,000 people and not a poet in the bunch, or at least one to represent it in London this summer. A wonderfully small, not to say tightly interwoven, state in the American interior like Arkansas must have more poets per mile than that. Heck, Little Rock probably does. Or even Smackover.
So much for European civilization. At such times it seems as reliable as the euro.
Never fear. This crisis is being addressed in always up-to-date Monaco. An urgent call for poets has already gone out from Monaco's department of cultural affairs. The way one would advertise for a butler, no doubt, or a nanny for the children.
But good help is hard to find. An Irish poet named Leontia Flynn who spent several months as a guest of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace (née Kelly) in their storybook palace had a simple explanation for the poet deficit in Monaco. It's a place where people go "for tax reasons," she said, and poetry "is never going to make you money and it's hard to do."
Think of the sad plight of the reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Jeanne Whalen by name, assigned to hunt down a poet in Monaco, all expenses paid. It's not exactly the cop beat.
But by all signs she did a thorough job pounding the palatial pavement, combing through places like Monaco's yacht-crowded harbor. That's where she encountered the captain of a sleek 165-footer who explained that Monaco's rentiers were not likely to occupy their time writing poetry "unless they can hang it on a wall and point to it and say, guess how much I spent on that."
On the trail of Monacan poets -- of any Monacan poet, for that matter -- Ms. Whalen thought she'd hit pay dirt in Old Town, where she was slipped an address. Like someone being given directions to a speakeasy during Prohibition, no doubt. But when she got there, it turned out to be a ceramics studio. The artist, locking up for the day, was puzzled by her interest. "Poetry?" he asked. "No, I do pottery."
Wonder of wonders, the WSJ's intrepid reporter found a living, breathing poet: Paulette Cherici-Porello, who had published a book of Monegasque poems in the 1980s. Naturally, it is out of print and unavailable in shops and libraries. But at 86, the poetess, now living in an old folks' home, doesn't feel up to a trip to London. To quote the general secretary of a society trying to preserve the vanishing Monegasque language, "To go with a plane is very difficult." And not just in Europe, or at 86, as many an American traveler might testify.
But the search for poetry continues. As it should. For all of us.