Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Why is modern poetry so bad?" - Part IV

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #51
     The cheerleading in opposition to "Why is modern poetry so bad?" and the underlying Harper's article, "Poetry Slam, or, The Decline of American Verse", has become more exuberant, as evidenced by copious blurbs like Katy Waldman's "Who Are You Calling Opaque?".  In fact, even the froth itself is spouting foam, as demonstrated so blatantly in Michael Theune's review, "Critical Alchemy: On Seth Abramson's 'The Golden Age of American Poetry Is Now'".  One wonders when this "Golden Age" will produce a single line of verse recognized by a sizeable subset (10%?) of poets, let alone the public.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #35
    At the heart of the "Why is modern poetry so bad?" "debate" is a fundamental flaw in logic.  Even if Mark Edmundson could prove that every poet he lists, along with all of those mentioned by his detractors, is the second coming of William McGonagall it still wouldn't touch on the quality of contemporary verse.  What does?  The fact that no one listens to it.  If a team hasn't won a game and the league hasn't sold out a section, let alone a stadium, in fifty years how productive is it to argue about who is the greatest failure?  When I say that no contemporary poet or publisher has done what Dylan Thomas and T. S. Eliot did in creating widely recognized verses I'm not talking about degrees;  today's poets haven't done it at all.  Not one poem.  Not one performance gone viral on YouTube.

    All of this luscious fruit is dying on the vine.

    Worse yet, many of the avenues have closed:  newspapers (online or print), television, and magazines no longer show much interest in poetry.  The circulation of the most successful poetry magazine adds up to about 1/400th of the English language poets in the world.  Prospects are remote for us ever being able to discuss an unincluded poem with our friends, as we can a news event, favorite song, movie or television show.

    "Hey, did you see the Red Wedding on 'Game of Thrones'?"

    "Sure did."

     Start of conversation.

    "Hey, did you read "Auditing the Heart" in Rattle or see it on Vimeo or YouTube?"


     End of conversation.

Auditing The Heart (by Frank Matagrano) from Earl Gray on Vimeo.

    Even stalwarts like humor and nursery rhymes are in decline.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #57
    At this point you are probably thinking that the situation couldn't get worse.  After all, nothing could be more devastating than a 0% success rate over half a century, right?

    Not so fast, Kowalski!

    I have news that is substantially more catastrophic than anything you've read so far.

    It isn't just the "Prufrocks", "Red Wheelbarrows" and "In a Station of the Metros" of today that are being ignored (assuming they're being produced).  Everyone is also overlooking today's "In Flanders Fields", "High Flight" and "Trees".  We have no Edgar Guests.  You see, it's all poetry that has died, literary and popular (or, if you must, good and bad).

    Put another way, if the Mary Olivers, Amiri Barakas and Carol Ann Duffys of this world can't give us a broadly recognized poem, good or bad, what chance is there for a Derek Alton Walcott, Seamus Heaney or Margaret Ann Griffiths?

    "It seems the canaries are dead, too."

1 comment:

  1. If such masterpieces of empty-headed pseudointellectual babble is the best its supporters can muster in its defense, "Modern Poetry" has as much to fear from its friends as its enemies, methinks. The only wonder is that the activity continues to persist at all.

    Among many, many, truly first-rate solecisms, fallacies, and fatuities, the sub-rant about blackberries was a true classic of its kind, which deserves to be long cherished for its sheer, verbose, woolly-minded pretentiousness.

    This, which comes as close to amounting to an argument as anything either wrote, is the best bit of all though. I have a sneaking suspicion that something similar will be lurking at the core of what many of the defenders of modern poetry believe:

    "You say such gestures “don’t slake a reader’s thirst for meanings that pass beyond the experience of the individual poet and light up the world we hold in common.” But that is exactly what they do. The most personal poetry proves that we share a susceptibility to its music. Our “great human truth” may be that we are all suggestible to one mind’s small flare of illumination, that the world populated by such vivid, numinous voices is the 'world we hold in common.' "

    Every poet is a unique special snowflake, and therefore equally valuable, huh? They don't need to communicate anything which their READERS may value, as long as they are writing in their own [insert vague hyperbolic adjectives here] voices, which the truly discerning reader ought to value for their sheer individuality alone. (Whether or not the impartial application of a critical standard would naturally result in the exoneration of McGonagall is probably one of the best tests of that standard's validity; this one fails spectacularly.)

    I'm going to call it the "Special Snowflake Defense" for short.


Your comments and questions are welcome.