Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poetry is dead again

I’m sick of people declaring art forms dead.

Fiction is dead. The short story is dead. Three yards and a cloud of dust is dead. Crunk is dead.

Apparently, poetry died in 2003. Or it didn’t. Or maybe it’s alive but nobody cares.

Patrick Gillespie, the man behind Poemshape, skirts the argument of poetry’s demise by suggesting we pull the plug.

If poets and artists can’t make a living by writing poetry or producing art, then maybe they shouldn’t be writing poetry.
Let the fittest survive.
And, yes, I hold myself to that standard. I live it everyday.
Let Poetry Die
So that it can be reborn.
Make poets work for their bread and butter by being poets.
As it is, the state of poetry is dispiriting. The public is right to ignore it.


Gillespie argues that well-intentioned benefactors like Ruth Lilly hurt the art form by allowing poets to write material that will only be appreciated by other poets.

Gillespie makes some good points. One, written poetry no longer grabs our attention. I asked the newsroom to name a living American poet. A room full of people who write for a living could only come up with Maya Angelou.

Two, poetry is mostly the realm of academics and dilettantes. You either write for yourself or for your sponsor. There are no more populists.

But I have two basic problems with Gillespie’s argument.

First, Gillespie ignores lyrics. All lyrics are poetry. The only question is are they good or bad poetry. (I had one coworker who arrived after I had polled the newsroom. When I asked him to name a living American poet, he said Chuck D. He instantly became my favorite coworker.)

Saying poetry is dead is like calling dinosaurs extinct and ignoring the birds. You hear poetry almost every day, even if it’s only during commercials or on the drive to work.

Second, Gillespie assumes high-quality work will automatically entice the populace. That ignores everything we know about marketing. A brilliant poet will still have a hellacious time entering public awareness. Gillespie says he knows Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods even though he doesn’t care about hockey or golf, respectively. Well, hockey and golf are much better promoted than poetry. There’s no Poetry Channel. Def Poetry Jam was last time I saw poetry on a channel that wasn’t PBS.

(I’d watch poetry playoffs. Get Harold Bloom to provide commentary. “Did you hear that imagery? Scintillating!”)

Until poets are willing to market their product beyond their core audience, it will continue to be an ignored art form. And, realistically, Ruth Lilly left the Poetry Magazine enough money for them to promote the entire art form and not just a few critically acclaimed, publicly ignored poets.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. There are bajillion blogs. None of them are vital. This one comes close.

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2 Comments:

OpenID poemshape said...

Hey Jason,

I'm going to quote and link to your news room poll. And you're right, I completely ignored lyrics. But here's the interesting thing about lyrics (and I ignored RAP too in *this* post though not in others), so does Academia (for the most part). Lyricists and rappers live or die on their ability to reach their listeners. Lyricists, I think, are still fully engaged with the populace. If they don't produce what the populace wants to hear, then they're out of work.

//Second, Gillespie assumes high-quality work will automatically entice the populace. That ignores everything we know about marketing.//

Well... there was only so much ground I could cover in one post. I guess I wanted to write a zinger, not an exegesis. I readily agree that marketing is what makes success. A poor poet, but brilliant marketer, will probably be far more successful than the brilliant poet (we see it all the time). However, marketing also goes where the money is. If a publisher sees money in a writer, they will market him or her. Need an example? How about Dr Seuss or Shell Silverstein?

//A brilliant poet will still have a hellacious time entering public awareness.//

No doubt about it, but so what? Think of how many times various (now internationally famous) authors were rejected before being recognized.

//There’s no Poetry Channel. Def Poetry Jam was last time I saw poetry on a channel that wasn’t PBS.//

Yes, the analogy to sports celebrities only carries to far.

//realistically, Ruth Lilly left the Poetry Magazine enough money for them to promote the entire art form and not just a few critically acclaimed, publicly ignored poets.//

I wish them the best, I really do.

P.S. How do I make my blog vital? : )

January 20, 2010 at 3:16 PM 
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January 21, 2010 at 3:35 AM 

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