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, October 9, 2013

Who Cares About Poetry?

Poets: "Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know."

      - Christian Bök (Kelly Writers House, UPenn, November 18, 2009)

    Who cares about poetry?

    Based on sales figures and the lack of iconic poems, I'd say damned near no one.  The public certainly doesn't.  This is a convenient fact for many, since it means there may be no objective audience to judge their efforts.  These people consider non-poets to be the great unwashed.  That even the more sophisticated half of the populace isn't interested in poetry doesn't register with these gadflies.

     That leaves the less than 1% of the population who call themselves "poets" and produce something they label as "poetry".  If challenged, they riposte:  "Who are you to say what we crank out in such volumes isn't poetry?"

     Given that even honored versers have difficulty selling more than a few hundred books into a population of more than 6 million anglophone "poets" it is safe to say that almost no one, including poets, shows any interest in purchasing contemporary poetry.

     Typically, apologists will ignore the point that almost everyone--including poets and the bright, well-educated reader--ignores poetry and counter that sales are not an indication of artistic merit.  Fair enough.  Let's try another tack.

     How much do these fans know about the thing they say they care so much about?

     You know those game shows where the husband doesn't know the color of his wife's eyes?  Imagine a level of apathy and ignorance where the husband doesn't know his wife's gender.  That is what we're talking about here.  Poetry professors and manuals today describe "Prufrock" (written in not one but four meters) and "The Red Wheelbarrow" (arguably the most metrical poem ever written since it is accentual and lexometric) are, of all things, free verse!  Worse yet, few bother to correct them.

     That the public is indifferent to contemporary verse is a shame, yes, but it is also a challenge and an opportunity. 

     The same can be said about the fact that so few poets study or care about poetry.

     Frankly, I doubt there are more than 200 anglophones worldwide who know the difference between an iamb and a trochee (figuratively, if not literally).  Most of those who do populate high-end critical forums like Eratosphere, Poetry Free-For-All and Gazebo.  These people care very much about poetry.  They care enough to learn the elements of the craft rather than merely pay it lip service.  They care enough to contribute their time critiquing it in a manner and technical depth that others can barely imagine.  The result should surprise no one.  Whenever these poets compete on an even footing with others the more knowledgeable group almost invariably prevails (e.g. all of the last 10 Nemerovs).

     Thus, even the most profound ignorance and indifference has its purpose, lending added lustre to more polished contributions.

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