Want to make popularity based on sales as the criterion of poetic worth? Think about the following:
Bestselling poet in England between 1560 and 1640 (the era of Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne, Herbert, and the early Milton, to name just a few) -- Thomas Tusser (he outsold most of those poets even when you take all their works sold during that period combined).
Bestselling English poet between 1890 and 1914 (era of Housman, late Tennyson and Browning, Hardy, and numerous others of note) -- Norman Rowland Gale.
- Howard Miller (Gazebo, 2007-03-19)
Fifty years ago, among poets, the "voice of a generation" would probably be the Beat poet of your choice, most likely Allen Ginsberg. Today, it could be a slammer, probably Shane Koyczan, if only because, in a rare moment when the world experienced poetry (if we can call it that), he did slightly better at the 2010 Olympics than Elizabeth Alexander or Richard Blanco fared at Obama's inaugurations. If nothing else, at least one person was animated by Koyczan's performance: Koyczan himself.
You think this is a frightening thought? Consider this: the alternative is that today's poets don't have a voice. In any event, comparing Ginsberg to Koyczan, it is clear that poetry's voice is nowhere near as prominent or clearly defined as it has been in the past.
|Earl the Squirrel's Rule #56|
By emphasizing advocacy rather than artistic value, "voice of a generation" also implies that the work is lacking in technical merit. Not surprisingly, onliners and geeks could produce a very different list of greatest contemporary poets than Page or Stage poets might.
Imagine that era, 1560 and 1640, without the likes of those poets Mr. Miller mentions: "Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne, Herbert, and the early Milton, to name just a few." What if they'd never been born, never picked up a pen or never attracted notice? Thomas Tusser would the best poet of that time! Instead of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets we could be reading verse like:
A foole and his monie be soone at debate,
which after with sorrow repents him too late.
Why, we might be quoting such epic epigrams as:
Who quick be to borrow and slow be to pay,
their credit is naught, go they ever so gay.
[We pause to shudder.]
|Earl the Squirrel's Rule #24|
There are no Shakespeares alive today, keeping theatres open with their verse and forcing us to forget the Thomas Tussers of our era. No poet is changing our language or adding a single phrase to our idiom. Yes, there are a few great poets around but the public can't name one and the cognicenti can't agree on many. This may create a vacuum in our present environment and a dead spot in poetry's history.
|Earl the Squirrel's Rule #19|
Put simply, why should future generations take an interest in us when we ourselves don't?