Can Poetry Matter?

I wrote this, and then realized that although it is not a poem, it does fit with Rockin’ Chair Prompts’ standing prompt, “What’s really on your mind?”.

I care about the future of poetry, as I’m sure that many of you who read this blog also do.

Poetry has existed since humankind could form together words and sentences. Poetry has told our stories, whether of national heroes vanquishing villains or individuals staring down their demons in the mirror. Poetry has shouted declarations of love from the rooftops or carried low growls of hatred in its belly. Poetry has been the voice of both the loud and the quiet…and has given voices to those who stood in danger of having their own voices snatched from them.

In my own life, poetry reached me at a young age and spoke to me directly in language that captured my heart. I have been writing poetry since age twelve and I have always loved the art form; I never stopped. I disconnected with my muse for several chunks of time that equate to almost ten years of silence. Last year, I started sporadically writing again; this year I am writing frequently.

With all of that having been said, I have been thinking about the current state and future of the art form. A couple of days ago, I posted a link to the Poetry and Pop Culture article that I found interesting. The author gives some suggestions for why poetry is becoming less of a cultural influence and what to do about it. I also found this article, reprinted from the May 1991 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. This I believe gives a way more in depth discussion of what has happened to poetry in the United States. While this article was published seventeen years ago, I don’t believe much has changed since then, except for the influence of slam and performance poetry.

So, what has happened to poetry? It has certainly become a less prominent art form in American Culture. Poetry, unfortunately, has become something to be endured grudgingly in high school English class or something expressed in a sort of poetry counterculture, never reaching beyond its own boundaries. This troubles me and others who love the art form and continue to create in it. We ask ourselves why this is happening. I myself am still unclear as to why. Many reasons are given for the downfall of poetry, including:

So….I want to hear what others think about this. In your estimation, why IS poetry becoming less relevant in our culture? And can poetry really matter again? I think Gioia gives some great suggestions in his article (suggestions which I still feel have relevance in 2008), including spending more time improving the quality of the performance of poetry, seeking out radio as a medium, marrying poetry with other arts form, and so forth. Paradowski gives some good suggestions as well, including starting an open mic if your city does not have one, bringing poetry journals to your local high school, starting general interest poetry journals, and so forth. In addition, I recommend checking out the other installments of Scott Woods’ column, Poetry is Doomed.

Please, feel free to leave a comment! I want to hear people’s thoughts on the state and survival of poetry.


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About ravenswingpoetry

I am a 38 year old writer from Columbus, OH and the creator of Raven's Wing Poetry. I am a poet, seeker, fellow traveler, and autistic.
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8 Responses to Can Poetry Matter?

  1. Brian says:

    Yes Raven, there is a Poetry Clause. By right and tradition Poetry Clause belongs to the people, not academia. For bloggers have reclaimed and rescued Poetry Clause from the clutches of those that say Poetry Clause does not exist. But they are wrong, for throughout the world, poetry is written, spoken, read and sung by millions of people who know that Poetry Clause is real. So Raven do not despair, but rejoice in the notion that you too can be visited by Poetry Clause not just one night a year, but every moment you live.

  2. I think all the points you raise are relevant but my opinion is that there is too much being written about writing poetry. Poetry happens at many different levels and what works for one audiance may be completely wrong for a different crowd. Poetry will always be popular because so many people write it. As far as readership goes there’s no real difference between poetry or any other kind of writing – to get people to read your work it needs to be published and then marketed.

  3. Scot says:

    don’t get me started–………………………

  4. Thanks, everyone, for dropping by and commenting.

    Sweet Talking Guy: You also raise some interesting points, especially your statement: “what works for one audience may be completely wrong for a different crowd.” This prompts the question from me – is there a such thing as general audience? And is it even possible to write poetry that appeals to a general audience? What qualities would this kind of work need to have to be universal in any sense of the word? Or is universality even the or an answer to making poetry popular again?

    And on getting one’s work published and marketed: yes, that is the end goal of getting your work published and marketed – to have people read it. But what I’m wondering is: is much poetry being published outside of academia in 2008? I’m not saying that such works do not exist – look at anthologies such as “The Spoken Word Revolution” and “Bum Rush the Page”. Also, individual poets of course are publishing works outside of academia.

    All of us poets, whether here in the blogosphere or not, are surrounded by non-poets on a daily basis. I think so much has been written on the apparent decline of poetry, but I think it is wise to steer clear of assumptions. Maybe each one of us ought to start asking questions of those non-poets around us as to why they don’t read – trying for some honest answers, of course, but taking care not to pin blame on them (we don’t want to come at this with a hostile “Why ain’t you reading poetry?” kind of vibe, but with a non-threatening and genuinely inquisitive tone). And perhaps follow up with this question: “what would make you want to enjoy poetry again”? I know Ms. Paradowski in her article has offered some reasons as given by the average reader, but I want to explore this further.

    Scot: I’m curious to know your point of view. I don’t mind if you soapboax here – or if anybody does, for that matter.

    Others: please, feel free to join in!


  5. Very well said. Poetry is here to stay. In one form or other. It keeps evolving. That is the beauty of it!

    Entertain me, will you?

  6. nathan1313 says:

    I’ve been reading Scot Woods’ column and he makes a lot of good points. But I’m not sure all poetry has to be performed. I think of ee cummings whose work has to be read on a page. I think all of it should be “poetry you can actually read” (David Lerner). Poetry will never die. We can argue about form and use but it will never die just like music will never die.

  7. Gautami:

    That, I think, is one of poetry’s advantages and perhaps a saving grace – the ability to evolve.


    You do raise some interesting points. How in the heck *would* you perform e.e. cummings? How would you perform concrete poetry? How would you perform shape poetry? All of these at least partially require the visual look of the poetry on the page to carry forth their meanings.

    Perhaps poetry is in another stage of evolution…?

    I do think, though, that promoting poetry as a valid art form can be done with both performance and non-performance efforts.

    Thanks, both, for giving your thoughts.


  8. Aaron Asphar says:

    I just couldn’t agree more with your point about academia. I’ve been writing about this too so I won’t repeat what I’ve said – its fist thing on my page, “my blog”.

    I will delve into your blog more when I have the time.

    Many thanks


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