Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dying? I don't agree.

Loren Eaton wrote a good post yesterday about serious, weighty books dying. That, and the poem is dead. And I stopped in my tracks and thought, really? Really? Poetry's dead? Does everybody really think poetry has died? Loren seems to, and that's okay. Maybe we're talking traditional poetry, here? THE POEM, not poetry in general. You know, sonnets and sestinas and haiku. But I still don't think those have died, nor are they dying.

My boss at my old job had a twelve-year-old who was obsessed with song lyrics. She would write them down in books and read them over and over and then she'd write her own poetry and lyrics in response. She's part of this "rising generation" that has a short attention span. I'm sure she uses Twitter now, and Facebook, and has a hard time reading classic novels in English class. But come on - poetry seems to be at the root of many writers I know, whether they admit it or not. We're stringing otherwise lonely words together to create a cohesive story - something that breathes and flows.

My Favorite Definition: Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response. Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme, but this is by no means necessary. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define. (thank you,

I wrote a post about poetry not too long ago. It got a bit of attention, and I think it was a great post. You should go read it. I suppose my focus here today is a bit different in the fact that I just want to shout out that I don't think poetry is dead or that it is going to die. I think it has evolved, yes, and in good and interesting ways. It has always evolved. Perhaps that means poetry is turning into something even more beautiful and versatile than it has been in the past.

To me, when I use imagery and focus on the sounds of words, I'm using poetry. When I listen to a song, it's a form of poetry. I guess it's like film vs. digital - film will never die. It remains an art form, although used by less artists, and film is superior to digital in several ways. For that reason, I believe it will always be around. I suppose Loren's post may be referring to the fact that the masses don't love poetry anymore, or that they don't love the weightier literary novels that only weighty literary circles pass around and actually read. Still, in my opinion, unless something goes completely extinct, it's not dead. People still write poems (there's a list of them in my other post), even traditional poems. Gasp. And there's journals that print them and classes that teach about them at universities. To me, that's not DYING. I like to think that if poetry sticks around, then THE POEM won't die, either. I like to hold onto that glimmer of hope that one of the most beautiful, original things about language will never disappear.


  1. Methinks this is going to get me in trouble ...

    Can I redeem myself by pointing to this?

  2. Loren, you are redeemed. If I have that authority...

  3. Michelle, as you say poetry is at the root of many writers. I say all writers have to use rhythm in one way or another.

    Wordsworth defined poetry as, "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings arising from "emotion recollected in tranquility."

    "Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science."

    And I say, poetry is at the root of all things. Especially all things writerly. Congrats on your book.

    Great post, Michelle.=)

  4. Great post, Michelle.

    I think the thing with poetry isn't so much that it's dying as it is evolving. Poetry has always had a strong oral tradition. While novels (and prose in general) lends itself more to reading than reciting, poetry is often best appreciated when heard, rather than merely read.

    I had this experience teaching my class a poem that was written in vernacular. We read it first and no one "got it" but when I played a recording of the author reading it aloud, the poem came to life.

    In this era of books being translated to various different media, I think poetry has a lot of potential to gain a wider audience. It's just a matter of finding ways to use technology for the genre, rather than against it.

  5. Roses are red,
    Violets are blue,
    Poetry lives
    So S.T.F.U.

  6. Robyn: I love that Wordsworth definition! To me that lies at the heart of every writer. And at heart I am a very optimistic person, so reading that things are dying always gets me skeptical and trying to see it from another perspective. I don't think the novel is dying, either. I think it might be turning into something many don't like at the moment, but I think as things are changing it becomes really difficult to see what's going to last.

    Gabi: Oh, I agree with you on all of that. I think poetry can gain a wider audience - but I also think it's in a really elastic state right now, and I might not even live long enough to see where it's really going. Maybe it's not going anywhere good, but I'm certainly doing what I can to keep it alive.

    Rick: That's just lovely. :)

  7. Modern unrhymed, unmetered poetry looks a lot like ordinary prose to the initiated. I think it helps noobs like me to start with older stuff, with strict criteria for syllable and rhyme. After you learn the rules, you can learn how to break them, how to let go of rhyme and meter yet hold on to cadence and resonance.

    My personal bette noire has always been alliteration. I love it waaaaaaaay to much.

    "Fiercely, almost fanatically, she flung herself through flying sea foam, feverish with fury and need."

    Hey. It worked for Beowulf.

  8. Michelle, great post, and thanks for the link to Loren's great discussion. I ended up leaving a way-too-long comment over there, and I was glad to see the discussion was still going. I won't voice my opinion on whether or not I think poetry or the serious literary novel is dead. But, I'll say that I think it has a lot of potential to stay alive. And, I think it's our job as writers to keep it alive. I keep coming back to the same issue of us (or at least me, since I really can't speak for anyone else) not working hard enough on our art or not trying to make art at all. I see the threat of extinction as a challenge for me to produce better work.

  9. Tara: I'm kind of dying as I read your alliterative sentence there...hahahah!

    I guess the problem is people aren't taking time to learn the rules anymore, and that could very well lead to something dying. I think it's our duty, if we love the poetic form, to keep it alive in any way we can.

    Davin: I think your comment over on Loren's blog is brilliant. I think that's exactly what has happened - the general reading audience (and writers, I suppose) seem to be reverting, in a way, back to the more simpler writing forms, and it's kind of sad. Young Adult is huge right now because it is short and usually easy to read, and hardly ever "weighty like Tolstoy", as Loren points out in the post. This leaves the masses with a taste for the more simple flavors, and classic, structured poetry isn't a "more simple flavor."

    See, there's nothing WRONG with simple flavors. They must be there. But ignoring all those more complex things is a shame. I think it's a phase, honestly, but only time will tell. Like you, I feel constantly challenged to produce better work, and that is a good thing.

  10. I really think that more literary fiction and poetry is being published today than ever. The thing is, as a percentage of what's being published, it may be decreasing because there is a lot more nonfiction and genre fiction and mainstream or whatever fiction being published now than ever in history. The interest/market for poetry and fine prose has always been smaller than the interest/market for pure escape/entertainment. It's the same thing that's been said about classical music for hundreds of years, and people still go to concerts and symphonies every day of the week all around the world.

    I haven't read Loren's post yet (but I will), but this reminds me of the bruhaha over David Shields' book "Reality Hunger," where Shields--a guy who doesn't like or read fiction and failed at writing it--declares fiction dead, because he doesn't like or read it. Fans of something always decry its loss when the masses (whoever they are supposed to be) don't take to it, and the masses declare something dead when they realize they have no interest in it. Meanwhile, nothing really changes with whatever is being mourned/kicked to the curb.

    Poetry lives. Literary fiction lives. So does everything else. Celebrate the infinite banquet and get on with things.

  11. Dear Michelle,

    Oh gosh, poetry is dead? I guess I better stop writing it--I sure don't want Zombie poems infecting the marketplace the way they took over Jane Austen.




  13. @Steven Riddle: "The Wasteland" is crying for a zombie treatment. And all the English Romantic poets just need sparkly vampires and some post-apocalyptic imagery to be market-ready. I think we're about to be in for a rough ride.

  14. I think it's important to remember that ancient poetry was sung. We don't know the tune to the Iliad, but historical sources say it was delivered as a kind of chant. Since song lyrics are all around us, I'd argue that poetry is vibrantly alive and part of the mass culture. Who can say that Leonard Cohen's words or Dylan's are any less poetic than Tennyson's or Shelley's?

    Academic poetry will always belong to a small, um, academic segment of the population. But poetry in a larger sense has mass appeal.

  15. I love poetry and I certainly hope it isn't dead, but I did focus on it all week on my blog last month and my traffic definitely slowed down. Then again it was high summer so I blame it on the heat.

    I featured these awesome classics:

    Kubla Khan
    The Raven

    Check them out if you have time and haven't ever read them.

  16. I cannot imagine poetry every dying. Poetry is used in so many different ways, beyond the written page. Songs for example, are almost like poetry with music. There's rhyme, there's meter, and there's emotional content. I guess what I'm getting at is that despite what appears to be a trend towards simpler and less challenging writing/reading, I don't believe poetry will ever disappear. It is at the heart of so many other art forms that it's an integral part of what we are as human beings, and I have no doubt it will continue to be expressed.

  17. If one views it nonjudgementally, the Twitter phenomenon is a poetry phenomenon. What is poetry in the end but the minimalist expression of an experience? And what does Twitter do when it forces expression into a compact minimal form? And Anne R Allen is correct in saying that songs are a musical poem. Indeed I have always referred to poetry as the music of our language.

  18. At times like this, I look to the teacher, KRS-One:

    You seem to be the type that only understand
    The annihilation -- and destruction of the next man
    That's not poetry; that is insanity
    It's simply fantasy -- far from reality
    Poetry is the language of imagination
    Poetry is a form of positive creation

  19. scott: I really think that more literary fiction and poetry is being published today than ever. The thing is, as a percentage of what's being published, it may be decreasing

    @ scott.

    Yup, definitely. Not only are more books overall being published, but there are whole new genres. As Judith said, Tweets are a form unto themselves. Same with YouTube length videos. And blog posts.

    Consider the number of genres that existed in the 19th Century. How many new genres were created in the 20th Century? And how many more will be created in the 21st? (And what the heck will they be and how can I make money in them...?)

    Anyway, take a look at the blog or Facebook page of any emo adolescent, and it's clear that love-lorn suicidal angst still excretes poems.

  20. I hope poetry isn't dying. I think it can open minds and make us think. Plus it's beautiful. =)

  21. Sorry I flaked out in the comments here today, guys!

    There is a great discussion here today, and overall I see a healthy optimism for poetry! That makes me happy. That alone shows the genre still has a beating heart. To me, anyway. I may be delusional, but oh well. :)

  22. It's sad how often creative change in a creative art is considered destruction of that art. How can haiku be considered beautiful and text-speak poetry considered ugly?

    If it seeks to capture the hearts and minds of the time, if it seeks to speak to the soul of today, or yesteryear, or the future, then it does it's job just fine.

    While personal preference is something to be respected and I can understand people's frustration with the dwindling of their preferred poetry format, but I really wish they wouldn't tear down the value of current art because it seeks new formats.

    For example, Rick Daley, your poem will be remembered for its artful transformation of an old poem reminded from my childhood into a cheery reminder of creative defiance!

  23. I love poetry, and turn to it in times of emotional need and distress, much more readily than I turn to novels (my own medium). My favourite poet is Brian Patten, a living and still writing English poet who writes the most beautiful and tormented poems about love I have ever read.

    While we're on love, I think you only have to go to a wedding or two to see that poetry is close to everyone's hearts. I'm at the age when friends are marrying left, right, and centre, and every wedding without exception has at least one poem read out loud. My favourite was a poem about growing old together, and the bride's sister became so emotional reading it that she could barely make it to the end.

    Surely then, if people are still fairly regularly exposed to poetry, there will still be those that feel inspired to write it and those, like me, who actively seek out new work to read?

    I wish I could write poetry. But I've tried - my efforts are dreadful!

    Great post, Michelle. Keep up the good work, poets out there!

  24. Poetry and weighty fiction will never die as long as there are thinking, feeling people in the world. They may not look the same as we're used to, but they'll always be there.

    They can't not be. Passionate human beings want to create.

    Hm. This was an unaccustomedly serious comment. I should make up for that by saying something inappropriate.

    I should really go put some pants on.

  25. Maybe poetry is more alive than the novel. Song lyrics, raps, etc. In a generation that thinks in short spurts the poem may become the new wave of expression. Rise, poetry. Rise!

    And as you know, I'm a big fan of poetry. That's where my writing started.


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