So much for Walt Whitman.
So much for us as poets, really. That comic -- just that one, not their entire body of work is better than any damn poem I read during the years I subscribed to the New Yorker. That's like what, 400 poems? Not that it's a poem. Please, please never mistake me for an idiot who thinks that everything can "be poetic." I am not that person.
The problem it belies, however, is that two geeks with a pen and photoshop can make something more interesting and memorable than 400 or so of the "best poems" by the "best poets" of our times. Now before we get off into debates on whether or not The New Yorker actually represents the "best poetry of our time," let us understand that it believes that it does and -- as it has, by far, the largest circulation of any periodical that regularly contains poetry (1,000,000 compared with The National Review's 150,000 and The Nation's 100,000 or Poetry's paltry 30,000) -- it well may.
What's wrong with this, of course, is that it represents poetry as some sort of "experience." The smarty readers of The New Yorker want to be able to pretend that they read and enjoyed and understood the twenty or thirty lines of drivel about clouds and dreams and warzones and that they "do poetry" or some other nonsense.
Poetry, of course, is no "experience." It is a form of communication. A medium, not a message (fuck off, Marshall), which brings me back to my original point -- lyric poetry is dead. Why?
Because if poetry is nothing more than communication, we can do a hell of a lot better describing something with a picture or a song or a youtube video. In fact, it would be so hard to make our descriptions more beautiful and important than a mere daugerrotype that we should stop trying until we can figure out how to write poetry again.
Because there is one thing that poetry is amazing at. Storytelling. The Homeric epics existed and thrived in a time of dramatic presentations for the gods. There is something available in the language of narrative poetry that exists nowhere else in the world of storytelling. Shakespeare knew this, and so composed his plays with the language of epic verse and the situations of Romance novels. Eisenstein wrote Ivan the Terrible in the verse of Russian epics for this very reason. Some plays and movies can come close to the visceral connection with language that changes our very chemistry but they almost always miss their mark. Novels don't even try.
And now, because we can only see what is in front of us, we come to believe that poems never had that power. And we murder what is poetry.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
So much for Walt Whitman.