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

Friday, July 26, 2013

Posterity? The Future is Now!

   In "First, the really bad news" the unlikelihood of any 2013 poem standing the test of time was established.  In addition to it having been replaced by songs on the radio 90 years ago, poetry's problems include:

  • Mass Media:  Poetry has virtually disappeared from newspapers, television, non-literary publications, etc.

  • Diversification:  With so many different literary outlets the chances of any two or more readers in a discussion encountering the same poem are slim.

  • Aesthetics:  In the past, people argued about whether a poem was good or bad.  Now they argue about whether or not it is a poem in the first place.

  • Education:  What percentage of poets know the basics, starting with scansion?  5%?  10%?  15%, maybe?  That is out of the 1% of people who consider themselves poets.  How do you sell something when only .0015 of the population understands what it is and how it works?  Where are the "great audiences" of which Whitman spoke?

  • Generational Narcissism:  People today show no interest in the past or, for that matter, the future.

  • Bundling:  Poets try to sell books rather than poems.  It is like, having failed to sell a cow to a vegetarian, we try to sell him a herd instead.

  • Market Research:  Non-existent.  Indeed, the whole notion of asking the public what they would like to see in a contemporary poem is foreign to our thinking.

  • Communication:  The only two venues at which geeks (concerned with quality) and honchos (concerned with quantity) used to meet have been closed.  One side will go on touting the likes of Maz while the other gives us the Flavor of the Month.

  • Popularity:  It is one thing to be part of a canon when your contemporaries appreciated poetry, quite another to survive an era when no one is being broadly discussed, performed or quoted.

  • Motivation:  When was the last time you heard anyone say anything about repopularizing poetry?

     A great squirrel once said:  "If poetry is not for everyone it will be for no one."

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #65
     Of its many challenges, the greatest may be the long slide from Shakespeare's commercial success to today's abject failure.  Without the hoi polloi, Shakespeare's theatres would have folded;  there would have been no reason for anyone to collect and preserve his folios.  Today, poets sneer at a far more educated public than Shakespeare entertained.  The art form has dovetailed into solipsism, going from us writing "poet's poetry" for each other to writing "confessional" verse for our friends and, finally, journal writing for ourselves.  Fewer and fewer of us can bring ourselves to blurb--sorry, "review"--poetry.  No one performs the work of a contemporary, as the Bard's actors did.  Because it has no performance value, today's verse shows less and less attention to sound.  Why worry about crowd-pleasing techniques when there is no crowd?

      We lost meter in the 1950s, plotting in the '60s, sonics in the '70s, rhythm in the '80s, coherence in the '90s and now our grammar is fading fast.  Other than that, yes, Ms. Hirshfield, "Poetry is just fine."

      In this era of instant gratification the "good" news is that we don't have to wait a century to be ignored.  Wholly and collectively.  The future is now!  Indeed, we don't even have a populist like Bukowski.  How can we have a Shakespeare when we can't even produce a Thomas Tusser

     The answer is to look at that verb:  "produce".  If we mean "make", we should, if we consider the Law of Averages (i.e. population increases, greater education and communication), be producing dozens of Shakespeares!  [Yeah, right.]  If we mean "produce" in the sense of "producing a play or movie" we see that prodigious talent is not the only thing missing.  The producers no longer know the basics of the craft;  thus, they can't guess which work is worth investing in.  There are no venues.  No hype.  No fan base.  Serious popular critics don't exist.  Where are the Ezra Pounds to serve as script consultants?  Thus, even if we did give birth to a bunch of Shakespeares there is no superstructure in place to exploit them.

     As you can see, the situation is grim, made all the more so by the all-too-common tendency to ignore the facts.  Nevertheless, all of this goes away if we can find one competent² storyteller.

     Just one.


¹ - "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)

² - "Competent" includes the ability to tell stories in either mode:  prose or poetry.

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