Saturday, September 04, 2004


Why Poetry is Dying

Double post, this, cuz I'm smack in the middle of editing, among other madnesses, and my co-editor is currently recovering from surgery--which hopefully explains my absence. There's hellalot to write about...including the tarot reading namaste gave me (hurry over there, I think the offer is still open), which I'd like to post with comments but haven't had time to do--and I'd like to talk about Bregovic's music cuz I got to see him live on Tuesday and it's among the best live music I've ever seen...not that I've been to just a whole lot of concerts, but it's good fun music...bit klezmer, but rowdy and good, lots of brass and an accordion, and 3 babushkas singing. Ex-cellent. And then there's the book...worth a read, but not uplifting. But good. Good enough I want to do a review on it.

The 'Disorganized Minds' piece went over well. I still need to work on delivery, cuz I didn't have it as well down as I would have liked, but it'll get there with a couple more goes, and a little more time to memorize.

But: time presses. Someone posted this at a poetry forum I frequent--if you're into the poetry thing, go have a read, and come back for the fisking.

Okay, my initial crit of this was based largely on the title, and the thrust of it can be encapsulated in one sentence: Anyone who tells you that poetry is dying is trying to sell you something. But then, exhausted from work on the next Trip interview, I thought I'd have some fun. That, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing something by dismissing the man on the basis of his title alone. I wasn't, but I may track this fellow's online persona down for a more thorough critique in the future...second crit: a bit more detailed, and as follows:

(before I get to that...I welcome all input on this matter, whether it agrees with this guy or me or some other person we haven't imagined yet...this is a subject I enjoy discussing, and all views are heartily welcomed, all comments heartily encouraged.)

First, I think the overproduction thang is a bit overplayed...we're overproducing humans, poetry comes with them. What to do?

The solution to poetry's malaise is sex education and better birth control methods...

on a more serious note:

>>>>>>>>the almost totally ahistorical mindset of young people; the continuing debasement of our language; the ubiquity of audiovisual entertainment; the adulation of technological gadgetry; the increasing inarticulateness of the general population; the triumph of that stupid nerd-box, the computer; and above all the vulgar commercialism and materialism of our culture, now so utterly pervasive that they define modern life. All these developments have been poison to genuine poetry.

We've been through a lot of this, it's the same basic division you'll find between Pound's version of Modernism and Eliot's version of Modernism. One sees the 'fragmentation of central values' as being a death knell, the other sees it as an opportunity to explore new forms. So I can't really go with his 'insight' into the 'triumph of that stupid nerd-box.' We all probably knew that.

As for the 'debasement' of our language and the 'inarticulateness' of Joe/Jane public, besides striking me as elitist, it's just plain wrong. Language evolves. Sometimes people don't like the way it evolves. I hate the use of the word 'orientate' for 'orient,' but I've been lead to believe that this may have something to do with me being an American (standard use in the UK, apparently, involves the pet peeve cited above.) For a good, strong argument that will set any grammar maven on their (yes, I said 'their') heels, read 'The Language Instinct,' by Steven Pinker. He'd be one for setting this fellow right...and he's got better credentials than this guy has, as well.

>>>>>>>what we see around us is decay and deterioration masked by frenetic activity and useless overproduction.

There's an ideology at work here. The guy needs to do some sphincter stretching exercises, or something. You'd think there was something really alarming about a lot of people writing poetry. My guess is, in Shakespeare's day, there was a lot of poetry floating around as well...the cream rises to the top, always. We just can't see what it's likely to be from where we stand...which is, basically, in the milk before it's been squeezed from the udder. There are, I think we'd agree, more pressing problems that we face right now.

>>>>>>>>It isn't something spontaneous, and it most certainly isn't something natural.

I'd have a couple of quibbles with him, here. Let's skip them, though, and just note that mostly what he's doing is telling us what poetry isn't. And his definition of what it is?

>>>>>>>>>A poem is a fictive artifact created by someone who has the special skills required for the task.

Again, disregarding my disagreement with him on this point (most vehemently centered on the word 'artifact'), something tells me that he's applying for the job...that he's suggesting that he has these special skills...and that, of course, makes him part of the elite.

>>>>>>>>an unmanageable flood of poorly made poems.

'managing' poems? Clearly, I just don't speak the same language.

On the Gresham's law economic analogy, in which this appears:

>>>>>>>>Look at it from a reader's point of view: why subscribe to a poetry magazine if ninety-five percent of the material in it is mediocre and unmemorable? Is the five percent of creditable work really worth one's time and effort? Any editor will confirm that it is notoriously difficult to get subscribers to a poetry journal, except among those people whose own poetry is published in it. As a result many journals face the choice of going out of business, or serving as vanity presses for their regular contributors.

Like I said before, anyone who tells you poetry is dying is trying to sell you something.

>>>>>>>>But the lyric is only one out of many rhetorical modes that have been developed over the centuries, and it is by no means the most important or the most prestigious of them

While I'm not particularly keen to be a champion of the confessional poets (though I love Sexton), I would be very interested in seeing this man's heirarchy of rhetorical modes, sorted by rank in categories of importance and prestige.

>>>>>>>>>the sclerotic leftist magazine The Nation

verrrry nice, indeed.

>>>>>>>>this is more out of a fossilized committment to an art form as obsolescent as the magazine's politics.

Well, politics aside, if we read his words literally, he seems to be suggesting that the art form of poetry is obsolete. That's a pretty severe judgment call from someone whose ostensible purpose in writing this is to save poetry from an imminent demise. All I'm saying is, if I'm interested in reviving that near corpse, I'm not sure this is the doctor to whom I should go.

>>>>>>>Satire and epigrammatic verse go against the soft, sentimentalizing tendency of modern American thought,

Provincial. There is a world out here, you know. Now, if the speech were titled 'Why American Poetry is Dying,' I could excuse this, but it isn't.

>>>>>>>Right now the short story is a lifeless art form, having been worked to death in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That is why short stories no longer appear anywhere except in tweedy little journals published by college English departments.

You know what this guy really needs? He needs a little riot grrl with a pierced tongue to capture his heart, eyeballs, and testicles, run him around a few times, make him slog through needle-strewn alleys risking muggings or worse to sing Italian love songs up at her skid-row fire-escape balcony, let him in and give him the ball of his life then rip off all of his money and leave him begging for her to do it all over again.

I can't go on like this. So let's just get to the meat:

>>>>>>>Avoid any declamatory, hieratic, or self-important tone that might infect your poem with Portentous Hush.

If this fellow had shown, at any point in this essay, even the slightest modicum of humor in his bearing, I just might buy this point--because a self-important tone is indeed one of those things that will make me put a poem down. It is, yes, probably the strongest point he makes. Unfortunately, that point ultimately proves damning to the essay, because a self-important tone is also something that is likely to make me walk out on a lecture...and this guy has it in spades. I'm not convinced by his alarmist argument--I'm not even convinced that he knows what poetry is.

One thing I'll maintain it isn't: it isn't dying.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?