Tuesday 1 January 2013

Poetry Pacific Chatroom: Topic 1: Is Poetry really dying?


As poetry practitioners, we certainly have many concerns about this pseudo profession. Legitimate or otherwise, these concerns of ours must, we believe, be shared by many poetry enthusiasts, including literary theoreticians, teachers, students and readers as well as poetry writers/editors/publishers, although with varying degrees. To address these concerns, we begin to introduce one poetic topic for online discussions on the first day of each month, hoping to generate some readerly interest and even critical attention. While we welcome everyone to drop by our chat room to make a casual comment, throw in an email, or write a serious essay, we will publish any written response that we think might be informative, inspiring or intriguing to our reading public. Even if there is no verbal feedback at all, we will nevertheless feel delighted if the topic can make someone stop for a moment to ponder over it. (Editors of Poetry Pacific)

The Observation

One of the greatest poetic paradoxes we are facing today is this: while people are still as ready as before to express themselves verbally in certain poetic way, they have become extremely reluctant to read poetry, let alone pay to do so while there are various other free forms of entertainment available to them. On the one hand, there are writers willing to contribute thousands of hours and/or dollars to the publication of their poetry books, or pay dozens, even hundreds of dollars, just to get their single poems published by a vanity press; on the other, there are poems as good as, if not better than, any masterpieces by a major figure in literary history or a Nobel prize winner, which few would pay a few bucks to buy or download the publication where such poems appear. Indeed, we are living in a world where there seem to be far more poetry manufacturers than poetry consumers. With more poetry writers than poems, more poetry books or journals than readers, and more poetry publishers than editors, poetry has become a true gift-economy. Ironically, free as these gifts are from the very hearts of poetry writers, they find few eager receivers, nor are they often duly appreciated, even if many of them may have cost whole lifetimes.

The Question

Is Poetry really dying like our Hero, or already dead like Nietzsche's God?

you comments on or responses to this topic are welcome in the box below or at yuans@shaw.ca!


  1. I've addressed this topic in a Q&A exchange with CASA Magazine:


    Q: What is the power of the written word or its place in contemporary culture?

    A: Today poetry is considered a weak art, one having little influence. Joseph Sobran put it well, saying that contemporary poetry of repute doesn't "stick to the ribs" (link). Some critics say we are less literate today and the traditional genres aren't as important as they used to be. But speech isn't dying, and poetry has its roots there, inseparable from rhythm. There will be poetry as long as there are poets.

    I think William Faulkner pinpointed what is facing contemporary poets and writers in his Nobel Prize address, written 60 years ago. The poet must find within the certainty that poetry matters. Rainer Maria Rilke advised us (in Letters to a Young Poet) to write as though we have eternity before us.

    Every civilization has had poetry in its roots, in religious rites and living stories. We are inspired by them to create a future. Poetry is the highest expression of a language and the power of a people. Cookbooks may be important, but the work of poets and artists carries us forward. A civilization has not developed without the written word.

    I think that the weakness of poetry as an art in our time is a sign our civilization is undergoing profound transformation. Poets, along with other artists, create the forms of a future, adding new experience while carrying forward what has survived. Everything created comes with a past if it has a future - words don't communicate and live on if they aren't grounded in what is familiar.

    Whatever future civilizations look like, the written word will be very important if they are to survive and thrive. This is why we have language wars.

    in the meantime poets are challenged and poetry lives on. The internet is full of it. I would like for it to be read out loud, chanted and sung more, as it has been in our past. I don't know how one can understand how a poem means without hearing it. YouTube is criticized for publishing "anything", but W.B. Yeats is there, reading his work, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomes and many other greats, as well as a wealth of new talent.

  2. I would like to add this paragraph from the CASA magazine article to my last post:

    Generally, I want to write poems that are more accessible. Poetry has become a weak art because we are more connected but not more united; in the US and much of the Western world, we are consciously different individuals living in a collection of cultures -- bombarded by communication and feeling crowded. The opportunities to expand our individual experience are enriching and exciting -- but can also make it more difficult to find a place from which to genuinely and effectively communicate with others, touch 'universal marrow bones' so to speak. Some try for a much smaller audience, but in doing so admit their reach is limited and settle for that. Those marrow bones are there, always have been, but more is in our way, or 'in our face'. A reader tries to find something he can relate to, for the moment. Mass vehicles for "social interfacing", like Facebook, are often shallow, by agreement; and enforced social behavior like "politial correctness" simply doesn't allow genuine communication.