This essay emerged from an interesting conversation that began on my internet poetry home: Wild Poetry Forum bemoaning the fact that there is no market for poetry.
I think it has more to do with what our culture values. Poetry as an artform has the same problem all artforms have. How many of us buy paintings? Sculpture? Have subscriptions to the ballet?
Perhaps it has always been this way--a small percentage of a perceived 'elite' supporting the arts; the rest of us unwashed masses too worried about basic survival to spend our resources on adornment.
In fact, wasn't the idea behind the craft's movement to bring beauty to utilitarian items, so that gap between function and aesthetics might be narrowed?
Perhaps the influence of mass media has so completely shaped what we view as beautiful and valuable that art is no longer relevant. I hope this is not true. But I do see our society as one that worships personal adornment (fashion and self-improvement) and performance art (via professional athletes and actors) rather than any of the other art forms.
In terms of poetry; I have come to appreciate that it is an auditory art form in a culture that seems increasingly visual and increasingly impatient for stimulation. And what about music? Are lyrics poetry? Some certainly are. The complexity and skill of lyrics by Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, and Peter Gabriel are unmistakeable. But there is more to poetry than rhyme and rhythm and I wish for an appreciation of the musicality of the words themselves without the embelleshment of the intrumentation.
I grew up in a household where words were valued. Books were always a part of my childhood--both my parents were/are avid readers. Verbal expression was also important and we were pushed to articulate our thoughts at the dinner table with precision.
It does not surprise me that I am a reader in my adult life. I read fiction and non-fiction, narrative and poetry. One of my favorite places is my local independent bookstore, Newtonville Books. It is a place to immerse yourself in the glory of words in a space that combines the sacred sense of a library with the comfort of your favorite living room. And they have a wall of poetry. Oh joy! Classic poets next to chapbooks from little known names. My guilty pleasure is buying a new volume of poetry and discovering someone else who believes in the power of words as much a I do.
Even among writers, poetry is often marginalized. Too often, their conception of poetry careens between the doggeral in greeting cards or the ultra avant-guard that feels deliberately inaccessable to anyone shy of a PhD.
The true secret is that poetry is probably the most accessible of the arts. I have read poetry written by school children that is beautiful, articulate, heartfelt, and well written. But somewhere along the way, education took a wrong turn in teaching poetry. By the time many of us reached adulthood, we had it pounded into our heads that poetry was this dry, academic craft in which each word had to echo a high literary reference. And god help us from righteous interpretations of what a poem "means".
I have often said that a poet writes one poem, a reader reads another. We use words and images to attempt to convey meaning but we cannot read without bringing our own interpretations of those images to the reading. That is a good thing: it keeps poetry relevant to our changing lives and our changing society.
I think that the internet may be the best thing that has happened to poetry in a long time. I belong to a vibrant internet based poetry forum (Wildpoetryforum) where week after week, I see poets writing, reading, commenting, and critiquing works of increasing complexity and beauty.
Poetry matters to all of us. I hope it matters to you.