I’ve been wondering exactly how to proceed here, because I know what I have to say will piss some people off. Ah well. The recent discussion on the blog is one I have wanted to have for some time and since I just happened to stumble upon Jlynn Sheridan‘s post about why her husband didn’t like, or didn’t get poetry, and her own secret confessions, it seemed like the right time to just launch right in. Obviously these concerns about the plight of poetry are on other people’s minds too. So the time seems ripe to talk about it.
Before I say more, I should preface this post by assuring you that I truly do believe a poetry renascence is going on in the United States. Maybe it’s already been happening in Ireland and the UK for some time. I don’t know. But we need to be aware of the fact that this is only an early stage for this poetic revival, and that the resurgence of poetry blogs, contests and little e-zines in the past decade or so really don’t tell us much, because most of this is being not only written by, but read by poets. Face it, most poetry lovers in my country’s recent history have also been poets! As Billy Collins said in his book Poetry 180, “much of [this] energy has been expended tracing the same circle it has always moved in, appealing to the same insider audience.”
In essence the greatest issue in bringing poetry back as a more widely experienced art form has been to continue to widen the readership of poetry beyond those people who are inclined to be poets.
Billy Collins goes on to say, “Poetry need not be read by everyone–lots of intense activities have small audiences–but surely this distressing ratio can be changed so that poetry is enjoyed by people who have no professional interest in becoming poets.” It was good to read that one of his chief goals in creating his Poetry 180 project, back when he was poet laureate, was to bring a love of poetry back to high school, because I agree that is “where poetry goes to die.”
As for the poems for today, and the last couple of days for that matter–I have a love-hate relationship with poems about poetry, because while they are fun and probably helpful to us as writers, their ubiquitous-ness is also evidence that we have been reading to each other for so long that we don’t seem to have much to offer the person on the street. Look at it this way, do musicians play music mostly for other musicians? Sure songs about songs and movies about movies can be great fun for those in the know, but it worries me that there is such a vast number of poems about poems, that I wonder if we have not become our own victims and created yet another way to lose our audience. Who wants to listen to a clique that only talks in their own language and to each other? Meta-art, as they call it might be interesting to the artist, but is no way at all to bring new people into the fold.
It becomes masturbatory, not that masturbation is a bad thing. It’s probably quite healthy and good to be that self aware. It only tends to be a problem if you the masturbator is constantly using it as an excuse to not bother trying to relate to and with other people. After all, who can love me better than myself? The metaphor goes too far maybe? Ah well. I tried.
I think we are making progress, but let’s not get so hooked on ourselves as the boys did back in Elliot’s day when they decided difficulty and evidence of academic prowess were paramount in judging a poem’s worth. So much of this philosophical posing these days that people call poetry seems to me just a way for arrogant writers to prove how smart they are. No wonder people feel left out, or looked down upon.
Who needs that crap?
So while I cringe, even at my own poems about poetry (yes, we all write them on occasion, don’t we?), they can be helpful learning tools for us. Someone mentioned the Harshness of Charles Bukowski’s “Poetry Readings.” It is harsh, and it irks me a bit, but I also recognize the truth in it. Charles was good at kicking us in the ass when our heads were stuck too far up there. Here is the text printed on the Writer’s Almanac. You can download and listen to Garrison Keillor’s rendition, or go here to Roger Ebert’s journal at the Chicago Sun Times site and hear it in the incomparable voice of Tom O’Bedlam, from the Spokenverse YouTube Channel.
But the last poem about poetry I want to leave with you as we start to steer this subject into more pleasant waters, is again by Billy Collins who addresses one of the problems, that I have mentioned before.
The text can be found here at Billy’s Poetry 180 website, and it is also the introduction to the book by that same name. So onward, let’s keep this trend going toward once again a wider audience for the art we love so much.
Thanks for taking the time to hear me out.
- Billy Collins on the Trouble with Poetry (dadpoet.wordpress.com)
- Why (even we) Hate Poetry (dadpoet.wordpress.com)
- 5 Poetry Sites to Enjoy (diycollegeprep.wordpress.com)
- Billy Collins “The Dead” (guerrillapoem.wordpress.com)
- Poetry 180 (web4tweens.wordpress.com)
- Even Marianne Moore disliked it. (dadpoet.wordpress.com)