Monday, February 07, 2005

Point Two - Poetry: The Paradox of Its Irrelevancy in a Capitalist World

Eric remarks, "Poetry is less important now in academic literary work than it has been for probably 600 years." He then goes on to note that probably 90 percent of the English undergrad curriculum is not devoted to poetry and to lament the difficulty of getting a book of poetry these days.

I agree with his assessment of the relative lack of interest in poetry nowadays, at least in colleges and universities and by other sources of power and wealth. But I wonder why.

I wonder why poetry books tend not to be published as often and don't sell well, the two phenomena being linked. Let's just assume we live in a consumeristic, capitalist world. (I don't know why people would think that we live in a "post-capitalist" world, but I'm willing to be enlightened.)

To me, that would mean that people should read poetry simply on the basis of poetry's relatively short length vis-a-vis other forms of art and literature like novels, non-fiction, drama, film, or even short stories. People have less time nowadays. They are out to make a buck. Logically, I would have assumed, people would turn to poetry. Poetry is quick, fast-paced, New Age. Poetry takes much less time to read than short stories or novels. (Of course, I'm excluding long poems and epics.)

There are many reasons, but I'd like to focus on the problem of individualism in poetry. Poetry's success on the blogosphere is no surprise, given the medium's suitability to shorter works. But a problem is that there appear to be more writers of poetry than readers of poetry, and relatedly, there appears to be too much apathetic individualism among poets and poetry-lovers. We do have to go out there and convince people poetry is worthwhile, sell your work, push harder for bookstores to carry more books of poetry and poetry magazines, and push harder for poetry to be taught K-12 and undergrad. (Short note: I've done so in the past, and needless to say, anti-poetry folks have pushed back...HARD against me. I will discuss it more later on this blog, but this is just a disclaimer for the kiddies who shouldn't try this at home.)


Blogger Neil Aitken said...

I would disagree with the assessment that since poetry tends to be shorter than fiction, that logically it would be more conducive to today's fast-paced society.

Granted, most poems are shorter -- but good poems tend to be dense texts, that is they require a focused concentration to be properly appreciated. Poetry usually employs on some level a complex rhetoric of image, language, sound, and turn of phrase. There may be a surface level read, but frequently what makes a good poem "good" are the other resonant meanings that arrive out of an awareness of context (history, literature, culture, science, spirituality, religion).

Poetry rarely is simply the surface level reading. Because of that fact, it requires mental effort (I'm not arguing for difficult poetry, just saying that it is different than straight prose). Most people in a capitalist society are not interested in investing time into something that yields no commercial return.

What do people read? Get-rich books. Mysteries. Westerns. Romances. Pulp fiction. Things that operate linearly and do not require a second read to be appreciated. Poetry invites the reader to return again and again. It also invites a re-evaluation of how we see the world. It doesn't serve things up straight or tell us how to respond, but instead requires us to think and feel on our own.

10:33 AM  
Blogger A.R.B. said...

Neil hit the nail on its head. Poetry is complex. The simplest poetry (whatever that may be) is complex. It requires thinking, that forgotten “event” of modern society. But do not worry in excess. Poetry shall never die. It will just seem like it: this coma.


4:36 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

More to write later, but I just want to say that Neil raises a great point about poetry's complexity.

5:21 PM  
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