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 30, 2014

Hype Versus Buzz - Impractical Reality

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #122
Impractical Reality

     Should you doubt that poetry is dead, try reviving it.  Alternatively, try imagining if poetry were not dead.

     Can you envision even one contemporary poem succeeding with a significant adult demographic today?  One common poem that two strangers could reference from memory and discuss on a long flight?  One poem that you might hear about from two independent non-poet sources, as you might a hit television show or blockbuster movie?  

     Among sources, after fifty years we can safely eliminate all literary publications and institutions, if only for the same reasons we so rarely Share their poems on Facebook:  they are vested interests and the poetry lacks broad appeal, even among "TARP", The Anglophone Reading Public.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #123
     The impractical reality is that hype is the Poetry World as we know it.  Publishers, teachers, students, friends and family describe poems exactly as we'd expect. 

     We smile and move on.

     The contrasting, underlying reality is that poetry is buzz¹, the objective verdict of audience members--none of whom actually exist.

     If that sounds dire or confusing, challenge a retiree to recite an iconic poem written during his or her lifetime.  If it helps, try prompting with "Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth."  Chances are, he or she will have no difficulty.  Younger people?  Big problem.  Thus, if nothing changes, we might be seeing the last generation to know any contemporary poetry.  Think about that for a moment.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #50
     Thus, we know from our elders that poetry flourished in the past.  The question becomes:  "Can poetry succeed again?"

     To clarify, by "succeed" we don't mean to return to its glory days centuries years ago when the sales of poetry collections rivaled that of novels.  Rather, we'll set the bar ridiculously low:  "Can today's poetry succeed once?"  Can one poem go viral?  To quantify this, in the next decade, will even 25 syllables of one contemporary poem become quotable by 10% of native English speaking adults worldwide?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #67

     A naysayer must make the case that the population has somehow changed at a fundamental level in the last half century, leading to poetry's current state of oblivion.  That isn't difficult;  the status quo is proof enough, leaving only the question:  How have people changed?

     Clicking from site to site, from channel to channel, from station to station, from task to task, we bombard ourselves with information.  This constant overload might improve our processing skills but it leaves us with the attention span of gnats.  It makes us resemble computers without hard drives, unable to retain details but secure in the knowledge that we can websearch it later.  In short, we don't memorize anything because we can't and don't need to.  Indeed, the very notion of memorable words is incompatible with our hardwiring.

     Ergo, poetry as a cultural convergence is a physical impossibility for us.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #76

     To argue the affirmative we need to explain how our psychology and/or neurobiology is going to change from Information Age norms.  To wit, why should we memorize something that is never further away than our smartphone?

     The answer requires less imagination than we might expect.  We see examples of successful verse every time a new song hits the charts.  Remove the music, though, and the performance level plummets down to the levels of readings and slams. 

     Nevertheless, we see stars of stage and film deliver lines in a natural, authentic manner every day.  Does it take a Nostradamus to predict that, someday soon, a competent, sincere- and natural-sounding actor or actress is going to perform a contemporary poem that was written to be seen?  And is worth remembering?
Earl the Squirrel's Rule #66

      When that happens it seems likely that Info Agers will see it and say to themselves:  "Ah, so that is why actors learn their lines rather than read from scripts!  To make it sound normal, as if they're making it up as they go along!"

     Because we can never prove a negative, the only way this debate can be resolved is for someone to break poetry's 5+ decades long losing streak.  In our next installment we'll discuss how and where that might occur.

Next:  Creating Buzz - Successful Poetry


 ¹ - This is almost literally so.  Obviously, without an audience we can't have art of any sort but this is especially true of poetry.  As we know from the definition of poetry, it is the audience that hears a remarkable story, buzzes about its merits, and comes to a consensus decision to preserve it verbatim as poetry.  Most other speech disappears, perhaps leaving its message behind.


1. Hype Versus Buzz - An Introduction

2. Hype Versus Buzz - Ramifications

3. Buzz Versus Copyright

4. Hype Versus Buzz - Impractical Reality

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