Monday, December 3, 2012

Why isn't poetry better than a movie?

I mean really that's an unfair question.

A movie is a "total work" in all that Wagnerian sense (especially, I would guess a musical specifically but isn't that what a soundtrack does without subjecting us to singing actors?) and a poem isn't.

But do poets even try? Who is writing poetry and who is writing Poetry?

Who is writing because they want to write and who is writing because they want to change the world?

Which is better?

Moreover, what motivated, say, Tennyson?

Here's a fellow that was so damaged by reaction to his second book of poetry that he didn't publish anything for nearly a decade.

I don't think I'll say we should haggle over the "is there a problem with poetry" question. There is. Teaching for 13 years now, I can say for an absolute certainty that there is a problem, in America, with poetry.

Hardly anyone teaches it and children simply fear it--they're not interested in engaging with it at all because they believe it's either some secret language they're not privy to or it's a meaningless drivel of "I think it means XYZ and who are you to tell me my opinion is wrong?"

At any rate they don't read poetry in the main. There are a precious handful of them who do--but most of their appreciation for verse has been withdrawn to lyrics.

I don't doubt that in the 18th century students wrote down the lyrics to hymns and drinking songs and other popular tunes--why wouldn't they? But did they not also commit the lyrics of poems to their memory and graffitos?

So why the stop? What's the problem?

I've explained before that it's twofold: one, we don't teach it and two, poets don't write it.

Now, there *are* poets who are thinking about writing the sort of poetry that would get people interested again in poetry in a general way.

There's work by Rebecca Lindenberg, Jill Alexander Essbaum, A.E. Stallings, Ernest Hilbert, Kelli Anne Noftle, and myself that *point* in that direction--the idea of an openness and accessibility. Hell, the glossary in the back of With Rough Gods is there explicitly because people no longer know their mythology.


That ain't it. Rebecca waxed on her facebook the other day about the Victorians having an idea that we as moderns find quaint but is, indeed, of a power. I've discussed this in short with Annie Finch but we've not gotten the chance to sit down and work out an idea.

But I think I'm beginning to see the light as it were. One criticism (?) of my work, especially WRG, is that I'm writing for a very specific audience of intelligent people who love both poetry and mythology and, for those people, WRG is an indispensable work.

Color me shocked but I thought I'd written it for everyone. 9 months into its publication life, however, with a hundred or so books sold and two dozen ebooks ordered, I think my critic was on to something--she is a brand specialist after all. Perhaps I wasn't as accessible as I thought.

I think, maybe, that even us poets who are writing (or think we might be writing or who I think might be thinking they're writing--there's only so much conversation I can start about why folks write poetry and what they intend to do before the other half of the discussion walks away for a different drink--sorry for being such a nerd, guys) for the common man don't have any idea what the hell we're doing.

Which is, in part, why I'm tinkering with children's literature. I think if you can't write a good poem for kids, maybe you're not doing it right. I've written (and written about?) a couple of fairy tales in my beloved Blues-Beowulf meter (4 beat caesura American) but I don't know if that cuts the mustard. Narrative with meter and rhyme might be the order of the day. If it's good enough for Poe and Tennyson why isn't it good enough for us?

Which leads to the next question--at who should we be aiming? Like Jesus says, your measures measure you--who is the paragon we must either Newtonianly stand upon or Bloomianly kick down? It's worth noting that the scientist says we build upon the past and the lit crit guy says we kill it. Who is doing better these days?

So I started this blog with a call to narrative. I keep up the call. But I add: make it for kids and make it rhyme. Let's hook them while they're young.

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