Thursday, March 26, 2009

Responding to claims about the "death of poetry"

In response to discussion (surrounding Travis' Nichols recent post) on whether or not poetry is dead (or dying):

Dead is certainly the wrong word to use (portrait painting, for instance, is obsolete, but not "dead"). And it's not poetry that seems to be becoming obsolete, it's just poets. Poetry is thriving.

And let's be clear: we're just talking about print poetry. I mean, I can hardly throw a book of obsolete poems toward the garbage without hitting someone who either does Hip-Hop, slam, talks in spontaneous haiku, writes lyrics, participates in the almost liturgical word games that happen constantly on message boards , or posts their emo poetry to their myspace, livejournal, or deviantart page. Sure, no one reads poetry (in the traditional sense), but more people are participating in poetry than ever before.

It seems odd that we'd assume that the decline of print means very much for poetry in general. I mean, for prose yes, prose owes its current popularity largely to the printing press, but poetry was around for probably thousands of years before even writing existed. The printing press had a good run, short in the big scheme of things, but, like the oil painting, I'm sure it will be around long after we really need it. Hell, books of poems will probably still be real popular at the RenFest in a few hundred.

Or who knows, maybe society will collapse in a year or two, and we can shout poems to each other over the rubble of our former America. Whatever the future, we can be pretty sure that poetry will last far after the paperback has become an antique.

On another note, I wonder what the findings of this study mean for Bill Knott's formulation of TAPP (The American Poetry Public). Knott's formulation of TAPP is meant to be a reminder to poets to play to their audience. We're supposed to believe that the measly amount of sales that it takes to put someone on a poetry bestsellers list is in some way indicative of how "accessible" they are. But how can we ignore that TAPP (as far as on Bill Knott's terms it only includes print poetry) is practically nobody. In light of this article, how can people continue to argue that poets like Billy Collins and Mary Oliver are in any way "accessible".

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