Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The State of Poetry

The State of Poetry

          What you ask is the state of poetry? Well there are probably more outlets for the art than ever. Especially when you factor in the internet sites. In one way the business is booming. However is poetry popular? That is, is there an interest in the art outside of poets? I once heard that there are more writers of poetry than readers. How one can prove that to be true, I don't know. But understand what such a statement is getting at. Poetry has become an art for only those working in that medium. Or has it?
          William  Shakespeare was a poet. A very powerful and prolific writer. He knew and still knows immense popularity. I suspect that Shakespeare's sales today surpass the most popular poets of our day. William Shakespeare proves that poetry can indeed be popular. He was a play writer, you say. Well his plays are works of poetry. William Shakespeare became a wealthy man off of his art.
          Some will scowl and frown, saying, poetry will never ascend to those heights again. They are of course, dead wrong. All I have to do is present to you musical lyrics. True there is more to the song than the lyrics but the lyrics are essential most of the time to a song's success. Music lyrics are not at all like modern poetry. Rather they are a very strict form of writing. They have a set rhythm, a rhyming scheme and an overall pattern. Then you need a chorus and a hook as well. Song lyrics show that poetry can indeed be popular. Writing a great song is of course one of the hardest things in the world to do.
          So why isn't poetry popular today? Because the majority of the poems produced today are simply garbage. 'Free verse' has digressed into a saying that the poet interprets as 'I'll just write whatever I want'. Truly rhyming poetry and other formal modes of poems have been thrust out as being archaic. But this attitude is but a momentary phenomena.
          Let us look at art in the form of painting pictures. In particular Pablo Picasso. Pablo Picasso could paint a realistic picture. That is he was so talented that his work was almost like a photograph when he wanted to. So when Pablo paints these abstract pictures, I have no choice but to respect them. Even if I cannot understand them. Why? Because I know that he is a master of the art and every paint brush stroke is painstakingly put into place. But if some joker comes along who can't even paint a fruit bowl realistically does abstract work, should I respect him? Absolutely not.
          Let us look at poetry. It takes a good amount of talent to write a sonnet. There is both a strict meter and rhyming skill to it. Then beyond that it takes some artistic spirit. It takes that intangible known as creativity. Now let's compare poetry to painting. If somebody cannot demonstrate skillful control of words, why should I look at their free verse. If somebody can't play a simple tune on a piano, should I respect their improvisation.  Or is it a senseless clanking of the keys? So if you can't even write a decent sonnet, please don't show my your free verse. You haven't proven yourself.
          So let us look at what Walt Whitman was all about. Poetry had been inundated with rhyme to the point that it became trite. Then came 'Leaves of Grass'. It was labeled 'free verse' as it didn't rhyme. It wasn't blank verse as there was no strict rhythmic patter. But it was not as Robert Frost said about free verse. "Playing tennis without a net." Rather Walt Whitman created his own unique creature and there in he liberally adhered to the new pattern he created. Note that there was something there. It was not simply words thrown on a piece of paper.
          So let us diverge at this moment to consider the true purpose of poetry. As a sub genre of literature poetry is supposed to communicate something. It could make you sad, happy, reflective or whatever. Or it could simply just make you think. Also poetry could take the form that what is read is pleasing to the ear. Generally it encompasses more than one of these aspects in a small amount of words. But above all a poem should communicate something.  You should read it and something should be left with you.
          But what happens today? You get ambiguous words without any connection. The meaning, if there is one, is known solely by the author. So are you saying that poetry needs to abide by some strict set of rules to make it work. Not at all. As evidence I present Robert Hayden's "Middle Passage". Though  this poem holds structure it by now means has a clear formal pattern. That is it would be a struggle to write a formula that was adhered to.
          Still after reading Middle Passage one cannot help but stand back and be amazed. The drama of the work coupled with the beauty of the words are extraordinary. Clearly there is something communicated. At the very least a story is told. More than a simple tale Hayden gives us an ironic look at the hypocrisy of life. If one wants to write free verse, look at Middle Passage.
          So where is poetry heading? There is a struggle here. I firmly believe that poetry belongs in the hand of the main stream. That it's rightful place is in the hand of the common man. But in order to do so we must take the art away from those who have hijacked it.  Those who have made a beautiful and powerful force into a trivial and trite ordeal.
          How do we make poetry popular again? By writing poetry that connects. By writing great pieces. By disregarding the quick and easy way out, to please those editors who lack vision. Rhyming Poets International is a great organization that is attempting to bring back the artistic quality into poetry.
          Finally let us have a word about experts. A degree is nothing more than a piece of paper when it comes down to it. You can hold a degree in engineering but that doesn't make you like Tesla. The proof of understanding how to write is contained solely in the piece itself. A poem stands or fails by it's own merit alone. I don't care who wrote it, it is subject to the same criteria. Did this poem have an impact on me in some way?

          Obviously poetry is failing. Where are the great poets of our age? Where are the William Shakespeares of our day? Unfortunately they are buried in a massive garbage heap. But do not be dismayed for in the struggle the artist is made. If one truly has talent and the heart of the champion they will achieve, God willing. Understand we almost missed out on Emily Dickinson didn't we? 

Signing off for now,

John 'FeatherLeaf' Kaniecki 

1 comment:

  1. A lot of the current readership of Shakespeare is because he's on school curricula. I first read him because ee had to, at school. And I'm almost certain that I'm the only one of my class who continued to read him for pleasure.