Reading a few articles in my reader feed brought my eyes upon this article discussing the problem as to why people are not interested in poetry.
The usual complaints by people are, as listed by them:
- It’s boring.
- I don’t understand it.
- It’s a waste of time.
The author then goes on to say that people do not possess the time to appreciate art in general, and in doing so the author ignores the previous complaints.
While this may or may not be true, I would rather we focus on the actual complaints. A doctor does not ask where does it hurt in your body, only to say it must be something entirely different.
(However I am reminded of an incident a few years ago of a violinist who played classical music near the subway, only for the larger populace to ignore it, whereas the same musician was to play in a theater where all the seats had been sold for an extravagant price. Perhaps the general populace does not have the appreciation for art, as the author claims, and as this incident would show. Then again, a quick glance onto youtube for musicians in a subway seems to depict that it’s not entirely uncommon.)
The complaints given by the general populace will have various foundations. What is boring to one person may not be boring to another. A sports fan will not enjoy Star Trek, nor will a Star Trek fan enjoy sports. So we might ask ourselves, what makes poetry interesting? We can generalize that the poem must somehow be thought-provoking or original; it must pull the reader into the world of the words and entice him. Failing to do this, a poem will be boring.
Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in the air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling […]
Walt Whitman, The Dalliance of the Eagles
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing […]
G.M. Hopkins, The Windhover
The previous two poems brings us a sense of adventurous wordplay. The eagles enact their rituals in the sky while the poet watches them nervously and with awe. It is not a mere description of what they are witnessing, but a story of the events in poetic form. We are not told, “I saw an eagle this morning;” rather “I caught this morning morning’s minion…” We are not told “I heard something in the sky;” rather “Skyward in the air a sudden muffled sound…”
We are reading dramatic description; we are there, watching it as it unfolds before us. We read, imagining in our minds the tension and playful acts of the eagles.
Instead, what are presented with by contemporary poets?
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
Billy Collins, Introduction to Poetry
There is no action. There is no suspense. Now it may be said, “there can be no suspense or action with this particular poem, considering its nature.”
And why not? Is it not the obligation of the poet to invite the reader in with him?
However far better poets have added this type of action, suspense, and drama despite the overall theme of the poem, such as Frost. There is no excuse.
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
Robert Frost, Design
I don’t understand it.
Poetry should not read like a mathematics or philosophy book. It is not a cryptic, gnostic work that only a few elite can read. If it brings no delight to its reader, intellectual/culturally known/etc or not, it has more or less failed to function as a poem. A poem can be intellectually stimulating-there is no doubt about that; however, much like life, one does not need to be an intellectual to understand it. One can appreciate the rose for its appearance; whereas, another can appreciate the rose for its role as flora.
There is a kind of meta within contemporary poetry that acts in a gnostic manner, namely that only a certain few can appreciate the meaning of the poem or even understand it.
I am reminded of John Ashbery and his first published work, which was judged by W. H. Auden and admitted that he did not understand anything in it.
Is art only art when it cannot be understood? That only a certain few can appreciate it?
It goes without saying that Shakespeare is the most prominent poet in existence, far popular than even contemporary ones. Not only is his work popular, there are countless scholars devoted to his works as there are countless fans who possess no intellectual background.
Why is this?
One can appreciate the rose for its appearance; whereas, another can appreciate the rose for its role as flora.
However even with modern poets like T.S. Eliot who write with a philosophical background, his poetry may seem unapproachable intellectually (1), but his imagery nevertheless draws its readers in(2).
(1)Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
(2)Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton
It’s a waste of time.
I could go on and on about the reasons that it’s really a waste of time, but the issue lies with contemporary poetry and poets.
Poetry has been stifled by mediocrity. We are not producing any Shakespeares, Dantes, Whitmans, Hopkins, or Eliots. There are a ton of other well-written poets, but I cannot name them all. There are even some, out there who are no-name’s, that deserve recognition, but with the current game of poetry, they may not ever be known.
What we have within poetry is a business of I scratch your back, you scratch mine. It is a business of false praise that lacks all forms of criticism. Mediocrity. If I am to give an example through wordpress, it is similar to Follow4Follows; that is, I follow your blog, so please follow mine. I liked your article, so please like mine. What happens is it becomes a circular ecosystem that does not branch out. It does not grow. It is not perfected.
So how does the general populace react? It’s a waste of time, because it is. It is not worthy to be read.
What are the poets reactions? They cannot appreciate art. But other poets will.
Please like my poetry, and I’ll like yours.
Author’s note: It should be stated, however, that poetry and all other leisurely activities only appeal to certain kinds of people. Not everyone will enjoy poetry, and this does not make them unappreciative, for they may appreciate it in the form of music, such as rap.
Of course, even within these mediums there are popular forms of mediocrity; namely, there are celebrities, musicians, writers, game developers, etc., who are popular though their creativity is lackluster. This cannot be helped, since their creations nevertheless provide a sense of enjoyment, and in the end it is not the creator who decides whether he is popular, but the audience.