I am the past that feeds upon the present.
I am the darkness that daylight denies.
I am the sins that you must inherit--
The final truth in a world full of lies.
~ Dana Gioia
Gioia lamented that while we are living in a great age to be a poet in terms of making a living at it, the only people who appear to read poetry are other poets. It has become mostly an academic pursuit, instead of the art once employed and enjoyed by the average reader.
American poetry now belongs to a subculture. No longer part of the mainstream of artistic and intellectual life, it has become the specialized occupation of a relatively small and isolated group….Daily newspapers no longer review poetry….te large audience that still exists for quality fiction hardly notices poetry. A reader familiar with the novels of Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, or John Barth may not even recognize the names of Gwendolyn Brooks, Gary Snyder, and W. D. Snodgrass. 1
Sadly, this seems to be the direction all art is taking ~ save, perhaps, music. My dear, if you can’t understand it, you are hopelessly uncultured and uneducated! But art is not meant to be picked apart like day old road kill. As Gioa put it Tuesday evening, “the purpose of poetry, indeed of all literature, is to instruct, delight, console and commemorate.” Academia is focused solely on the first purpose and has completely forgotten the other three.
Of course, that is not anything new: look at Christ: he spoke in parables to the crowds, never theology or philosophy. And see how the academic critics of his day liked it!
To look at the issue in strictly economic terms, most contemporary poets have been alienated from their original cultural function. As Marx maintained and few economists have disputed, changes in a class's economic function eventually transform its values and behavior. In poetry's case, the socioeconomic changes have led to a divided literary culture: the superabundance of poetry within a small class and the impoverishment outside it. One might even say that outside the classroom—where society demands that the two groups interact—poets and the common reader are no longer on speaking terms. 2
How sad is that last statement. I feel like there was a divorce and I never even knew he was gone!
Reclaiming Our First Love
So what can be done about it? As I mentioned on Thursday, we should learn to see poetry with new eyes by hearing it recited properly. And by that I mean with passion and feeling and with an understanding of the rhythm and flow of words.
Sullivan has mentioned that he wants to begin hosting poetry nights. Each guest will be given a short poem to memorize, which they will then recite at the party. I think it is a brilliant idea and cannot wait for the first installment.
If you’re still new to poetry and the thought of a party is too much, start by taking a day [or morning or afternoon], grab a book of Dana Gioia’s poetry and head to your favorite spot. It could be down by the river, in a canoe on the lake, under a tall magnolia, at the local coffee shop, or simply at home on the porch. Sip your tea [preferably Southern sweet tea, of course!] and let the imagery capture you and the words roll around your mind and off your tongue.
You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to fall in love . . .with poetry.
Oremus pro invicem,~ Mikaela
1,2: taken from D. Gioia's Can Poetry Matter?