Narrow Definition of Poetry Has Some Writers Worry About its Future

“Poetry may be out of fashion, but it is the finest expression of what makes us human”, writes Jay Parini in an article published by The Australian and The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Parini goes on to show us the developments, or deaths, of poetry over the years. The article aptly concludes with Parini stating that he couldn’t live without poetry, which he reads first thing every day. Even those who see value in poetry, like Parini, seem to concede that poetry is out of fashion, and I can see many heads nodding in agreement. But before we mislead ourselves, let’s face the reality: poetry is just as alive today as it was years ago. If we believe that it is dying, we might be subscribing to a dangerously narrow definition or understanding of poetry.

Poetry includes both the written art and the spoken word, and it comes to life when performed. Of course there is nothing new in this, but those who look at real poetry as that existing in the written form, as that relating only to the artistic forms of Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, Frost, and Yeats, need to stretch their definition of the art, and look around for signs of poetry in action. Fine, let’s be agreed, we are dealing with a world that is full of other forms of entertainment that seem more appealing to most people than poetry would. Fine, we might visit bookstores and notice that the poetry sections are much smaller than, say, the self-help or travel book sections, but that does not mean that poetry is dying or that it is out of fashon.

I have seen the growth of other forms of poetry that respond to the progression of time, poetry produced directly for the stage: that’s poetry, and poetry that is beginning to match the needs of different audiences. I have seen the growth in demand of artistic forms like Hip-hop capturing the hearts of many people, especially the young: that’s poetry. I have read reports of the growth of performance poetry in Zimbabwe, poetry that speaks to the hard times in that country, performances with big audiences: that’s poetry. And I have recently become more active in the poetry groups in my community; we meet for readings often, and everyone in those groups enjoys the art, reads poetry daily before doing other thngs: that’s poetry. At those readings we have audiences–fellow poetts and their families, plus other people interested in the art–who buy our books, read and talk about them: that’s poetry. Have you looked at the internet lately; have you seen how many people write poetry, and most interestingly, those who believe that they are poets and end up falling prey the dozens of laughable poetry websites infiltrating, but not suffocating, cyberspace? Hundreds and hundreds of people who are convinced they are poets and they want they world to see? To some extent, that’s poetry, or at least an acknowledgement of the existence and importance of the artform. A special note about all the poetry in existence out there that might seem like a mockery on the artform: I would not be too quick to dismiss these attempts in order to lament the state of poetry; I would take these as auditions: sooner or later, with persistence, some of these poets may one day make indelible contributions to this undying, forever fashionable art.

That poetry is taught in schools is a good thing.  We are teaching it to people that will one day find the time to appreciate it. You know, that age when we are finally settling down and are remembering the things our freshman literature or composition teachers were trying to expose us to? At that time, if Borders does not have the books we wants on its shelf, we will turn to an online bookstore, which may happen to be a Borders one, and buy the poetry book we want. That is, if we have already not attended a poetry reading where were able to buy signed copies directly from the author. But here I am now talking about poetry in the book form, which is just one manifestation of poetry. Remember that poetry never used to be in the book form, back when we didn’t even know what book was, probably would run away if we saw one? Time has a way of connecting us to a much earlier era, especially in art, and we might as well start preparing for another form in which poetry may seek to manifest itself to audiences.

As a literary scholar, I may make myself feel good by arguing that the real poetry is contained in the nicely-bound Shakespeare and Frost volumes on my shelves, forgetting that this is only part of the story of poetry.

So, no, poetry is not going out of fashion.

Poetry will always be here, as it has always been.

You don’t define an art by means of how much money it brings into the pocket of the author; art defines and tranforms itself. While the academy has something to say about poetry, the artform would not even care a bit what the academic says, or doesn’t say about it. Poetry is, therefore it is.


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