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

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Poetry must be made by all. Not by one."

     In Poésies, Isidore Lucien Ducasse, Comte de Lautréamont (1846-1870), wrote:

    "La poésie doit être faite par tous. Non par un."

    "Poetry must be made by all. Not by one."

     There are at least two ways to interpret this famous statement literally:

1"Everyone should write poetry."

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #58
    This isn't quite as crazy as it sounds.  The open mic is, as far as it goes, a rather accurate reproduction of poetry's origin:  cave-dwellers meeting around a fire and telling stories.  It treats poetry as a conversation in which everyone gets their chance to speak.  This, and nothing else, explains the concentration on [over]production.  It explains the blurbosphere with its absence of real criticism.  It explains the vanity press (too expensive in centuries past) and the "showcase" website.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #50
    It explains the expansion of poetry's definition to include forgettable poetry--prose and doggerel that even the author couldn't be bothered to memorize.  It explains the rise of the seminar, MFA and Creative Writing course, creating more and more "poets" who can't tell verse from free verse, let alone free verse from prose.  It explains the loss of audience, with everybody talking and nobody listening.  It explains the disappearance of sales;  when online chat is free who buys the minutes to a meeting?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #19
    It's all very democratic except for one missing detail:  there is no vote.  The open mic supports only applause, most of it tepid, from attendees waiting patiently for their turn to speak.  As we saw with the Watermelon Problem, publishers won't even honor their own best poems, lest they offend their other contributors.  There is also the issue of fragmentation:  no publication will reach a full 1% of the participants, let alone any audience members (if they exist).  There is no consensus slate of candidate poems and, therefore, no discussion of them around the water cooler.

    Award results surprise us.  Without an audience--sophisticated or not--there can be no datum, no measure, no contemporary prosody.  Isn't that the perfect environment for "poets" who have no interest in poetry?  

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #43
    We don't have to guess what would happen if this mindset became the norm, absent any widespread understanding of poetry basics, beginning in primary school.  We've seen it:  more than half a century of complete, across-the-board failure.  The concept of readership is so far removed from the equation that these people think the only alternative to poet-centered verse is a publisher-based scenario where editors (or critics?) decide what is or isn't poetry.

    In short, many "poets" can't imagine an audience, let alone serve one.

2.  "It takes a village to create a poem."

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #22
    The "everyone is a poet" scenario has neither a need nor a role for others, such that the lack of an audience is both a cause and effect of this indifference.  What these people miss is what happens after those prehistoric, preliterate speakers were finished:  the preservation of perfect presentations in memory.   The idea, utterly foreign to most poets today, is that poetry would be memorized, performed, quoted and cherished forever.  That is what poetry has always been, will always be, and would be today.  If people cared.

    See also:

  • "Poetry is a verdict, not a claim." - Leonard Cohen.

  • "To have great poets, there must be great audiences too." - Walt Whitman.

  • "Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most
     people." - Adrian Mitchell

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