One poet's opinion
POETRY FOR THE PUBLIC
From the beginning of writing, poetry augmented people’s lives.
The first novels were written in poetry. And besides entertaining, the poets wrote history, as well as philosophy, addressed affairs of state, as well as affairs of the heart. In days of old, the poets sat beside the rulers.
Then the industrial age roared in, followed by the electronic take--over, and we began to lead push-button lives. No time to read. With the advent of television (entertainment and education in pictures) the beauty of language fell out of favor. While interest zeroed down to sex, violence, and celebrity. Later, prose expanded to educational TV scripts; but video didn’t indulge poetics. So the poet star fell -- to the bottom of the social scale.
Serious writers of “the language of life,” who once enjoyed world-wide respect, were now stereotyped as immoral, suicidal, unstable… (yet for every Dylan Thomas, who had to be led around, there was a T. S. Elliot who worked in a bank).
Ultimately, somewhere around the middle of the last century the inherent human hunger for beauty and philosophy began re-surfacing. But by then poetry had changed. Robbed of their crowns for the first time in history, poets turned inward; they began writing for themselves-- often only for therapy. When the poet star beamed center sky, even blind, disillusioned Milton directed his poetry outward, to “the moral blindness of humanity.” But suffering modern bards penned self-conscious purges, while the current lesser talents produced an avalanche of say nothing sludge.
As a result there developed a Grand Canyon gap between poet and potential reader-- and not many poets are community bridge builders...
By continually selecting narrow personal subject matter, they had written their death warrant. Also, the consensus in literary circles that the average man/woman in the street wants da da da jingles, or moon/June sentimentality, insulted the readers’ intelligence. Maybe the blue collar worker doesn’t think it’s poetry if it doesn’t rhyme; but more likely he’s bored. One of lesser education doesn’t necessarily lack thought, or have to be spoon-fed philosophy. A carpenter once complained to me,
“Poetry should make me think,”
Today, if our poetry doesn’t sell, we mistakenly assume it’s because of the public’s inability to appreciate. But let us first look at ourselves. Did we seriously create for the public? Or indulge in personal therapy? I believe that garret poetry (stressing apartness) and triviality, share the blame with technology for the poet's fall from popularity. Too many poets avoid universal subjects-- rejecting meaty everyday subjects as anti-poetic.
Politics for example-- yet the long tentacles of Government reach into all our lives. To sell poetry, we must write for the great majority. Poetry enhances life only if it hits home-- and is understood.
Joseph Brodsky, U. S. Poet Laureate (1992) doing his duty as the country’s poetry advocate, said, “I would like to awaken the nation to what poetry has at it’s disposal, and what it neglects.”
Dan Gioia, Chairman of The National Endowment for The Arts, recognizes that neglect. Reflecting in The Atlantic Monthly, he overtly chastised today’s poets for not addressing public problems…blaming the “specialized professional poets” for reducing the art of poetry to “an invisible sub-culture”-- by not giving potential readers what they want, and universally expect.
Long ago, Samuel Coleridge determined that his journal, The Watchman, failed, because he had failed in the first requisite of professional journalism…“Not what the editor wills but what the public expects.
The current trend toward an about face to real life subjects is slowly pushing poetry up from the ashes. Maybe together with the dynamics and diversity of emerging minority poets, plus the myriad micro presses, and on-line publishers, we can clear a trail through the boredom and pull the art of poetry out of obscurity...
There's hope, for change is in the wind. The general public is crying out for capsules of substance and beauty on subjects relative to their lives. If some professional poets still persist in writing their gems of lesser value, they will soon be offset by the obviously increasing number of diamonds-in-the-rough hiding in myriad “little magazines” of limited circulation.
This is our opportunity to upgrade the circulation. Technology may remain king; but poets have only to write for huanity, and reading public will again open their wallets
So offer your gems to mankind with sincerity. Give the hungry public something worth while. Speak to the heart and soul of your readers; write them a slice of life, a sliver of truth, a healing bit of humor, slaughter the myth of death ...
When the pendulum swings all the way back to universality, I believe poets will again join society on an equal level. We cannot expect the star status of antiquity, but the sweeping trend predicts a return to popularity and respect.
Poetry for the public-- meat for the literary hungry--will also put meat on the poets’ table.
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Delma Luben has published more than 2000 individual poems, in Great Britain, Canada, Scotland, and the U.S. plus five collections, two audio albums, and a song.