Tuesday, February 22, 2005

More Thoughts on Audience

I just posted a response on audience in poetry in comments, but it is edited and expanded here:

I would agree that relatively few people can name living writers of any literary genre. I have a problem with the fact that both K-12 and college/university education today places such an emphasis on dead poets over living poets, often to the exclusion of living poets. Perhaps there is an argument that there should be more focus on dead poets, but it shouldn't be 100 to 0 percent.

I don't think that I was entirely clear about my thoughts on audience. The focus of my previous post was on the poet's thought processes while writing a particular poem. I think that, at least subconsciously, most poets have an imagined audience, be it a particular editor, a community of poets, or the public in general.

The distinction between focusing on the poem and focusing on an audience is a difficult one to draw. For example, most American poems obey certain linguistic, syntactical, and spatial conventions that most Americans can comprehend. But even beyond that, with many poems, there are cultural, geographical, religious racial, gender, sexuality, etc. references that are more accesible to a targeted group of people. There are communities of readers who may better comprehend certain poems than others.

Like Nick, I think that audiences cannot be controlled in most circumstances, though I would add the caveat here that there is already a limited audience for contemporary audience in poetry vis-a-vis an audience for novels, for example. In other words, the audience that gravitates to poetry (or to particular poet or set of poems) is fairly circumscribed already. However, I do think that poets can control their own writing, if they choose. I think that much of the time poets choose to do so. Now there is stream of consciousness, surrealism, dream journal type writing that, one can argue, liberates the poet from such control, and that should be acknowledged.

I would agree that all poetry is not high art, though there would then have to be a distinction drawn between "high" and "low" art. Not an impossible distinction to draw, if conscientiously defended.

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