Why is it important to revitalize the public's interest in poetry?
Pick a number between 1613 and 1915. Don't argue. Just humor me.
That number represents a year between Shakespeare's retirement and T.S. Eliot's debut. Now look at every poetry anthology published in the last fifty years. How many poems from the year you chose are being preserved in reprint? Or on required reading lists? Fewer than a half dozen, I'll wager, and probably closer to one or two. Now survey every anglophone on the planet, asking each of them how many of these poems they can quote. How many of the poems from that year have been preserved in our collective memory? One, maybe two. Probably none.
Looking forward, this number--zero, one or two--represents how many poems from 2011 rate to survive until 2111.
Pretty bleak, no? As the song says, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"
Factor in the rampant and growing generational narcissism that ignores history entirely. Fewer than 50% of high school graduates can name the major combatants in WWII. If they know so little about a world-wide conflagration from 70 years ago, what chance is there that they will know or care about a poem written in centuries past?
Can the news get any worse? Well, actually, it can and does.
We need to consider that, before WWI, people cared about poetry. They memorized scores of poems as they appeared in magazines and newspapers. They performed them in parlors and at parties, perhaps hoping to catch the eye of a prospective romantic partner. This popularity gave poems and poets their first push into posterity. No, it didn't work with Thomas Tusser (who?) and it didn't happen with E.A. Poe or Emily Dickinson but, for the most part, contemporary champions helped a poet's chances of immortality.
Today, most people can't recite a single line of serious poetry written in the last half century.
Thus, there is virtually no chance that any poem written this year will be considered significant in 2111 or beyond. In short, there is no such thing as posterity anymore. The most frustrating thing is that quality isn't the issue. Does it really matter how pretty that tree falling in the forest is?
Think of how depressing it is for a poetry editor to know that nothing published today will stand the test of time. As for a contemporary audience, if Giles Coren is correct--and I suspect he is--even poets don't read the editor's offerings. Repopularizing poetry is important, if only to talk editors down from the ledge.
As was pointed out in The Guardian's article, "What's wrong with popularising poetry?", some academic types don't want poetry to be popularized. You've seen these ostriches rolling their eyes and making droll, dismissive jokes whenever anyone mentions the truth about poetry's irrelevance.
Imagine the irony if these were the same folks who complain about English departments being downsized!
Next: Who Killed Poetry?
Coming Soon: Time for some good news
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