Thursday 21st March was world poetry day, and having recently dipped my toe in the world of poetry, I began to question (with some sadness) whether poetry was a dying art form?
We all live in a world of ‘popular culture’, whether we like it or not.And as such, we are lucky enough to be exposed to all sorts of art on a daily basis; music, film, fashion, architecture, writing. To add to this, as a generation, we are better educated, more cultured and have greater access to content of interest, than any generation previously. However, as time moves on and culture changes, so naturally do the interests of young people. Our ‘popular culture’ is markedly different to that of our parent’s generation, so where does poetry sit in our modern-day hot-pot of culture… Where is poetry in modern culture?
It seems to me that people of our generation rarely openly talk about, read or write poetry. Is poetry not ‘cool’? Have we had too much of the stuff? Was it that poetry was rammed down our throats in English lessons at school? Perhaps, it was reading Shakespeare’s sonnets in front of a teacher one had a crush on, blushing and acne-ridden, that has cursed poetry to a bad memory? Maybe it was the experience of standing up in front of the class and reading a homework poem? What is it that’s putting people off?
This one is my favourite.. maybe its that as a nation of stiff-upper-lipped types, it simply wouldn’t be the “done” thing to spiel off a few rhyming couplets on a, god forbid, emotional subject. I would love to blame it on the later – alas even the likes of Michael Rosen seem to be on the decline.
No money in poetry anyway, if you can rhyme it, why not do it to beat and become a rapper, hey? And we do listen to music, don’t we? Pop, Indie, Jazz, Hip Hop.. you name it, music is a big part of life for our generation. Ask any group of people, anywhere in the world, and they will most likely tell you that music plays a role for them both socially and personally.
So am I arguing that songs are modern day poetry performance? Maybe in ways I am, as I would like to think that poetry isn’t dying, it is just changing; style and artists have moved on. Yes there are many horrendous, lyrically unfortunate songs out there, take anything by Britney, Jessica Simpson or Sean Paul, and a fair whack of the 90s. However then you look at the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and recently, Adele; suddenly what you see is rather brilliant, authentic, modern poetry.
Rhythm, expression and storytelling are integral to both song and poem; the two have been entwined though history as different ways of passing on information, entertainment, social interaction, romance and education. Natural symbiotic relationship perhaps, and poetry’s receding popularity (much like the hairlines of the majority of its writers), is result of culture in its own right having changed. Much like we, as society have changed in the way we access and relate to art, the way we relate to poetry has evolved. I’d like to think so, although I still believe that poetry in its traditional form is something we shouldn’t lose as an art form; be it stuff that wins awards and touches the hearts of many, or be it a few lines scribbled drunkenly and read with cringe worthy embarrassment the next day.
To me poetry will always be a necessary part of culture, weather I’m making the world make sense again by reading a bit of Anna Akhmatova (a brilliant, raw Russian poet who has been very well translated into English) or accessing the great wisdom and beauty of William Blake or W.B. Yeats. In this busy, dispersed, confusing and ever-changing world, an art that allows people to express their emotions, or at least maybe learn a little about their emotions- surely that’s like free therapy? And lets be honest- we all need that.
So maybe this has been a wasted argument and poetry is irrelevant in today’s world, or maybe, you agree with me. Either way, I shall leave this with the infinitive wisdom of well-put-together words, not by someone like Shakespeare or Plato, as I originally intended but by Gilbert K. Chesterton:
“The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”