Ugh, I am so sick of people saying [whatever-cultural-form] is dead. This week, of course, it’s poetry since Richard Blanco had the audacity to READ a poem ALOUD at the inauguration on Monday. Ew, gross, right? A POEM!
And then the reactions of journalists, which was basically, “Poetry sux you guys. What it’s even FOR? Bleh.” First of all: cast no stones, journalists. Second: seriously? Do your homework. I alone, me, myself, I know about a bajillion successful, publishing, exciting poets. So I know for a fact it’s not as if poetry isn’t being made, which would be the only reason someone could reasonably argue it was dead.
What I see, instead, is this yucky, entitled cultural laziness. Like if something isn’t put directly in my glazed and crumby paw, it doesn’t exist! (No not that paw, that paw is holding the remote control to my 8,000 channel cable network. The other paw.) This country is clearly happily sliding feet first into cultural illiteracy and disinterest, mostly because Americans are such perpetually overstuffed consumers, they have lost the interest in, if not ability to, actively seek out unfamiliar art forms.
And you can trot out that old, dusty argument about poetry being elitist and only for the educated etc. And while I do concede that people need to be literate to read poetry (though not to hear it, and by the way how did it happen that we live in a country where the minimum level of education–literacy–can be labeled elitist, instead of, oh, say, necessary and empowering for all citizens?), it is not true that people need to bring to it anything but a self, a mind, wonder. Poetry is frustrating and strange to all of us, even those of us with PhDs! Charges of elitism kind of become moot. “Are you smart enough to solve me?” is not actually the question poetry asks. I don’t know if poetry can be said to ask a question. I think poetry, largely, just is and all this stuff you bring to it, all this freaking out you do in front of it, that, my friends, is not poetry. That is you. Or alternately it’s all poetry. The poem; you, freaking out; that box of crackers over there; etc. Whoa, I think I just blew my own mind, man.
Can you imagine if I told you you could only go look at paintings if you had an advanced degree in Art History? You would be livid. You would call ME the elitist, and you would be right. Why do we say these things about poetry as if they were true? If you can read, you can read poetry. And you should be reading poetry. Don’t you go around blaming poetry because you’re afraid to feel uncomfortable or because you’re too lazy to find out where it is (which, come on. You Googled that recipe for yellow cake last week, right? You can also Google poetry. Or, you know, walk into a bookstore. Or just read everything here: poets.org).
And I guess that’s all I have to say about that. Okay? Okay. Sheesh.