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

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Can Poetry Revive?

Seen on Facebook: 

"Even today, native languages in Africa are comprised of more than 100 sounds ("phonemes"), many of them originally fashioned from noises in nature ("onomatopoeia"). As humankind migrated outwards many of these were lost and not replaced. Mandarin has 67 such phonemes, English has 44, Proto-Algonquin 23, Hawaian only 13.

"Thus, when you and I speak we use the sounds of African wildlife species, some of which may have been extinct for eons."
      Aside from communication, the purpose of language [as a whole] is preservation.  The purpose of poetry is to preserve [specific] language.  Hence, poetry distinguishes itself from prose in that it is verbatim or, if you prefer, memorable speech.  Not writing.  Speech.  Shakespeare's plays weren't recorded for posterity on behalf of English professors;  they were committed to paper from memory as scripts for the benefit of other actors and producers.

  The expression "poetry book" or "poetry magazine" is something of an oxymoron.  Yes, both have existed even before the printing press but, unlike today, they had readers, not just writers hoping to see their names in indices, and those readers were interested in importing that language into their speech.  Yes, archiving poetry as literature is vital but not if it has no appeal to audiences, contemporary or future.  Not readers.  Audiences.

      Flash forward four centuries and the most widely quoted poet is Leonard Cohen.  This is a man who authored three "best-selling" volumes of poetry before picking up a guitar, but more than 99% of the time he is quoted from memory it involves one of his lyrics, not his books.  Thus, poetry already survives, but only in song.  Most people know thousands of lyrics but can't recite eight consecutive lines of a poem written during their lifetimes.

     Thus, if we understand what poetry is--verbatim speech--we understand how to revive it.  Speak it!  To be clear, insofar as modern work is concerned, it isn't the presence of poetry writing [or the concomitant lack of reading] that has killed the art form;  it is the absence of poetry performance. 

     Ergo, reviving poetry is a simple matter of encouraging people to perform it, most conveniently and economically on social media.  Offer prizes for the best videos of selected stageworthy masterpieces  (after obtaining the necessary permissions) et voilà!  Problem solved.

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