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, June 12, 2020

Poetry, Politics, and Money

      "Multiculturalism is vital to poetry because it is virtually impossible for an anglophone to imagine a world where poetry is alive, just as others cannot envision a world where it isn't." - EG
     Contemporary English language poetry is a cautionary tale.

     On June 10th, 2020, Chicago Tribune writer Jennifer Day reported: "Poetry Foundation president, board chair resign after open letter demands more in wake of Black Lives Matter protests."

     The Republican dominated Poetry Foundation put out a statement in sympathy with the Black Lives Matter protests:

The Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine stand in solidarity with the Black community, and denounce injustice and systemic racism.

As an organization we recognize that there is much work to be done, and we are committed to engaging in this work to eradicate institutional racism. We acknowledge that real change takes time and dedication, and we are committed to making this a priority.

We believe in the strength and power of poetry to uplift in times of despair, and to empower and amplify the voices of this time, this moment.

     Hardly inflammatory.  Nevertheless, these words were treated as tepid crocodile tears by just about every linebreaker who'd ever contributed to Poetry Magazine:  Letter to the Poetry Foundation from Fellows + Programmatic Partners

     This sentence was of particular interest to us:

Ultimately, we dream of a world in which there are more sustainable ways for poets to support themselves that do not require them to engage with institutions that may not share their values.

     We could have lived without the politicalization after "themselves".  Why should viable artists have to engage with any institution?

     Other than co-sponsoring "Poetry Out Loud", which the Foundation seeds with poems that have zero performance value, it's hard to see what interest these people have in promoting this mode of speech.  The letter continues:

Ultimately, we dream of a world in which the massive wealth hoarding that underlies the Foundation’s work would be replaced by the redistribution of every cent to those whose labor amassed those funds.

      They had me until the last five words.  If only they had finished with "dedicated to poetry promotion and education."  That the Foundation is still financially stable is not a problem.  (What should we expect from an organization run by a banker?)

      An educator would put a poetry primer into the hands of every student in America.  A promoter would insinuate poetry into movies, television shows, and bars from the Keys to the Aleutians.  A networker would create discussions among poets, actors, songwriters, musicians, playwrights, web designers, governments, venue owners, and all other associated entities.


     The mind boggles.


  1. Hi, me from the geoffrey hill discussions,
    You've got me, where in the world is poetry still popular? I'd love to know.

  2. These two statements are true of poetry in the last 30 years:

    1. Poetry has suffered a decline almost across the board.
    2. BY COMPARISON, poetry remains popular among non-anglophones.

    I'm sure you agree that the average Brit, Aussie, American or English-speaking Canadian cannot recite a single stanza of poetry written in this century. I doubt they can name anyone who has written a poem in this century. English language poetry--not counting song lyrics--is as dead as any art form could be.

    In my experience, poetry remains popular--or least unpopular--in the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian world, and in developing countries. Sadly, the cliché about poetry doing best in tightly controlled societies remains true. I think that it fares better in southern than northern European based societies, and better in non-Christian societies. Hence, the triple whammy, language, culture, and religion, for English.

    I still believe that the Internet in general, and social media in particular, will allow poetry to rebound. If anything, though, these venues have SO FAR had the opposite effect! Worse yet, the caliber of "poetry" continues to decline in lockstep with plummeting political standards. My theory is that this can only be the nadir for both...if only because I cannot imagine worse.

  3. On your theory about decline:
    Let's look at it. First, presuming that we don't count rap music, which surely, though has some things that poets can learn from (verse form, rhyming couplet), is not that great as poetry, even the best rappers and the most lyrical are outmatched by the best poets.
    So we move onto instagram poets. At moment, basically epigrams and gift card statements. However, the movement's in its infancy, and while superior poets such as Hera Lindsay Bird (basically Silvia Plath but not quite as good) are going viral, give it a decade and a really talented poet might think that social media is a good way to distribute.

    Internet poetry. Weirdly, the best forums such as Eratosphere and pffa are losing members instead of growing. Still, pffa remains a good place to get constructive criticism.

    I disagree with you about politics. If poetry is popular in the arab world, then most of the arab world is ruled by dictators, so poetry hasn't failed there even though politics has. So poetry in the west isn't failing because politics is failing, it's either stagnant and awaiting an innovator, or its still building up.

  4. We are agreed on [c]rap and Instagram "poets". While most lyricists are beaten out by the best poets in terms of intrinsic quality, the ONLY [visible] poets in the last two generations have been lyricists: Cohen, Dylan, et cetera.

    We seem to agree about the future but not the present. I believe that English poetry is at its nadir. Two generations ago, scansion was taught in public schools. Today, only a tiny percentage of lit PhDs can do rudimentary meter. Hypermodernism would be well beyond their grasp. As you suggest, the number of people capable of rendering serious technical critique (as on PFFA and Eratosphere) continues to decline. Not surprisingly, poetry has not just utterly disappeared from our culture; it has become a subject of scorn in sitcoms and late night comedies.

    We agree that there will continue to be great poets but for how long? It has already devolved into a Jedi situation. The Yodas are aging out. Even if the padawans can still learn the magic tricks, will they be ignored, as they are now?

    On this I remain worried but optimistic. I think the current bottleneck is in performance, not composition. The person who saves poetry will be someone who can bring to life contemporary verse WRITTEN BY OTHERS, just as a model wears clothes designed by others. This will be a symbiosis: the performer creates a demand for stageworthy verse and the poet writes to fill that vacuum. Like Reggie Dwight and Bernie Taupin, minus the music. Like "Love is a Weakness". With significant networking.

    Here is the immediate hurdle: Describe a poem that Facebookers would Share.


Your comments and questions are welcome.