October 7th, 2008

there!, Hello

destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

Livejournal tells me that on this day in 1955, Allen Ginsberg first read his poem "Howl" in public. "Howl" was so controversial, Authorities seized over 500 copies of Ginsberg's titular collection (as well as holding a subsequent obscenity trial). Livejournal then goes on to ask if poetry is as relevant anymore.

The responding posts are overwhelmingly "Of course! Of course, it's still important!"

My answer (and I'm speaking as a published poet, here):

Absolutely. Not.

Poetry has been relegated to a position of little importance. Too often, it's perceived as the stuff of sentimental (and less than sensible) lovers, or the indecipherable products of effete pedagogues, or simply "them words what get sung to the purty music".

I love poetry, love the economy of language, love the structures, love the way it can connect an author and reader like no other form of communication (forget television, forget novels, poetry is the main connection to the switchboard of souls)... But I have no illusions. Poetry is not on its way out. It is pretty much gone, baby, gone.

Sure, poetry is still published, but Percy Bysshe Shelley's "unacknowledged legislators of the world" have long since been trod beneath Ozymandius' stony boots. Ginsberg's "greatest minds of a generation" have been swallowed by Moloch.

And yet I continue to write it. I try my damndest to write it well. Few others feel as I do. And the powers that be? They could not care less about poetry if they tried.

That said, the lessons of poetry -- rhythm, word selection, &cetera -- are still as vital as ever. And yet, every day a new novel is produced that is woefully devoid of these lessons.

The real questions I see are: Can we make poetry widely relevant, again? Should we? And if so, how the deuce could we?
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    angry looking and despairing