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Thread: Is poetry still important in the 21st century, or is it a thing of the past?

  1. #1
    Senior Member baroquepopfan's Avatar
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    Is poetry still important in the 21st century, or is it a thing of the past?

    I thought this might be of interest to the literary types here.

    I'm a member of a quasi-intellectual debating and dining club which meets monthly to discuss politics, philosophy, science and the arts (the topic chosen and led by one of the club on a rotation basis). This is the topic and summary of next week's meeting. Additionally, I'm told that each member will have 10 minutes to read selected poems. As the youngest member of the group, they're sort of expecting me to represent the present (and future). Meantime, I'm interested in what the virtual dining club here would have to say on this. The virtual menu for you today is Onion Soup, Beef Wellington (vegetarian option on request), and Bread and Butter pudding, served with the house claret. Coffee and mints to follow.

    TOPIC FOR MEETING ON 9 JANUARY 2014

    Is poetry still important in the 21st century, or is it a thing of the past?

    Poetry has been defined as “literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm”.

    People in the UK nowadays spend more time watching TV or surfing on the internet than we do reading books of any kind. And most of what little time we spend reading books, we spend on reading prose – a lot of it low grade prose at that!

    Surveys have indicated that about 60% of people between 12 – 74 buy at least one book each year, but only 1% of the population buy a poetry book. And cynics have suggested that this 1% is poets buying their own books!

    So not many of us read poetry nowadays. Is this because it is outdated as an art form and has nothing to say to us 21st century people? Or have we been sucked down by a whirlpool of easy popular entertainment, our brains numbing as we go? Is there a case for poetry? If so, what is it?

    Members are asked to identify the case for the reading and writing of poetry in 2014 by presenting and commenting on one or two poems they value. Some questions to ponder:

    What is the essential difference between poetry and prose?
    Why should we read poetry?
    Why do you value poetry (if you do!)?
    What makes good poetry?
    Why have I chosen these particular poems?
    Last edited by baroquepopfan; 01-03-2014 at 10:33 PM.

  2. #2
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    Totally still important. Oddly, I ended up talking about poetry today on tumblr. I think what's interesting about poetry now is that the medium has changed - people don't consume poetry solely in books anymore. One of the very popular tumblrs I follow is a poet - http://langleav.com/ - who has been posting poems on the site for quite a while before publishing a book of them.

    I discovered the poetry of Matthew Dickman (who is a young living poet who has won awards) through tumblr initially, and then some youtube videos from readings he had given, and I got obsessed and bought "All American Poem" and one he co-wrote with his twin brother, who is also a poet, "50 American Plays".

    Through those guys I found out about Sharon Olds, (their mother's stepfather is Sharon Olds' father) and her latest book of poems "Stag's Leap" is on my "want to read" list alongside "station island" by Seamus Heaney. Of course, I already knew about Heaney as a poet, but I never had to read his work in school and was never really drawn to it until I came across an excerpt of "station island" online and that is what drew me into his work. I've still not managed to find a copy of that book in print locally outside of a box set of his entire collected works which I can't afford.

    There are so many websites that have poems from famous poets up on them that you don't necessarily have to be going out to buy books of poetry to read at home. Poetry is by nature usually more portable and the short form lends itself well to the new online world we find ourselves living in. So, if anything, I'd argue that poetry is even more important now as it's closer to the bitesized media consumption and shorter reads that are screen friendly.

    Actually, the other poetry books I've added to my "want to read" list on goodreads lately are by Frank O'Hara, who I also discovered through tumblr. Maybe I follow really arty tumblr blogs, but I don't really. And yeah, tumblr's format really suits poetry as it frames that poem rather well and it works on the screen in a way that doesn't work for me here on the forums. I find it hard to read a poem posted in a thread here, whereas I find the layout on tumblr suits reading poetry much more. It's all that negative space around the content I think.

    If you're looking for poetry that represents the present and the future, then maybe check out Matthew Dickman's work (I really do fucking love it. I got obsessed with All American Poem this summer in a big way) and include Lang Leav posting her poetry on tumblr to grow an audience before going and publishing a book of poems rather successfully. I'd love to know how her sales figures compare to the more traditional methods poets tend to use.


    So, really, I'd ignore those figures about people spending time surfing the internet, because perhaps they are reading while they are on the internet. I know I sure as hell do. And sometimes what I'm reading is poetry.
    Last edited by ebby; 01-04-2014 at 12:40 AM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member baroquepopfan's Avatar
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    Thank you Ebby for your considered response. It's not my specialist subject, so I greatly value your insight.

    I had a long car journey today with a friend who has a few poetry books to his name (amongst other things) and he said that the spoken/listening of poetry has become far more important that before. Maybe it's that we are left with the books rather than the aural history that we view these works as to be read rather than listened to. He said he couldn't imagine Shakespeare writing the sonnets for people to read quietly to themselves, and I think that may apply to many other poets.

    I believe many people still like poetry (as in arrangements of words). Is it just the medium that has changed, rather than a love for poetry per se? After all we are exposed to poetry (or at least rhyme!) in pop songs every day, and fans can often remember the lyrics to all their favourite songs.

    I'm still not sure what to do with my 10 minutes. I'd be quite tempted to play a recording of a long Bob Dylan song, arguably the greatest poet of the late 20th century. Or perhaps read some snippets of Joanna Newsom to show that some modern musicians still care greatly about language. Or perhaps one of my favourite Arthur Rimbaud poems in French.

    Before that I'll definitely seek out some work by Matthew Dickman.

  4. #4
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    No. Dylan is definitely not the greatest poet of the late 20th century. Then again, I'm biased as I despise his music. His lyrics aren't a patch on poets of the 20th century. I mean, you're saying he is better than Ginsberg, Auden, Plath, T.S. Eliot, Heaney, Ted Hughes, Seigfried Sassoon.... Which is utter tosh. Please don't revert to the notion that song lyrics are the same as poetry! There's similarities, and some overlap - but most great lyrics don't make great poetry. They can be poetic, and can make good poetry, but to say that modern poetry is best represented in song lyric choices is to do a great disservice to poetry as an art form in its own right.

    eta: the guardian actually ran a "great poets of the 20th century" series: http://www.theguardian.com/books/series/greatpoets

    I mean, youtube some slam poets, who are following on from the Beats and Jazz era and keeping poetry a spoken form instead of something written on the page somberly. Look into the exciting young poets. Look at the many open mic poetry nights that have opened up all over the place - I know that andy who posts on this forum is very much involved in performance poetry these days as well. That's a really vibrant, very modern iteration of poetry having life outside of weighty tomes of award winning poetry books.

    But yes, totally check out Matthew Dickman. He might not be for everyone, but I really like his work.


    Matthew Dickman - "Slow Dance"


    Look at the great expression of female identity and queer expression that is finding its voice through performance poetry online. I mean, there's buttloads! Indeed, I'd argue that poetry is going through a major renaissance at the moment and finding a very eager new young audience as well as whole new poets you'd not find in the Guardian.

    Katie Makkai - "Pretty"


    Lily Myers - "Shrinking Women"


    Alysia Harris & Aysha El Shamayleh - "Hir"


    I find it interesting, because both of those two slam poetry performances became viral videos. And this one did the same in the last few months as well:

    Neil Hilborn - "OCD"


    it's a different form of poetry than Heaney or Plath, for sure, but it's a vibrant form that resonates greatly with audiences. I mean, that poetry channel alone has over 100,000 subscribers and over 17million views on their videos. That's just one poetry channel on youtube.


    edit: jinkx! I just got a facebook invite to a slam poetry night: https://www.facebook.com/events/2047...n_user_invited
    Last edited by ebby; 01-04-2014 at 08:46 PM.

  5. #5
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    What's interesting to me as well about Lang Leav's work, is that she posts the poems as images, not as text that can be copied and pasted elsewhere, or pushed out of format. It's like an online version of printed paper that you can only photocopy or else type out from scratch again. So, the images get shared, and the poetry stays exactly formatted as intended:






    Her stuff is very much short form, and I'm not a huge fan of it, but you see it getting shared around tumblr with 11,000 notes on the post and the like, and you know that she is resonating with an audience.


    edit: this is also just stuff that I stumbled across. There are other posters and former posters who are way more knowledgeable about poetry than I would be who would be certainly more adept at talking about poetry and contemporary poets! (Kollins! darkLuna! wish you guys were in this thread!)
    Last edited by ebby; 01-04-2014 at 08:44 PM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member baroquepopfan's Avatar
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    Yikes , I did say arguably, and late 20th century, and it's not necessarily my view. I'm nowhere near qualified enough to say.

    Ebby, I love your passion , and I'm learning something here.

  7. #7
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    It's ok, Bob Dylan is one of my hot button moments. I think he's so over-rated it's unreal.

  8. #8
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    Also, here's a tumblr to follow that focuses entirely on poetry after 1912, so really, poetry of the 20th century and onwards: http://poetrysince1912.tumblr.com/


    I actually have turned into someone who reads a lot of poetry it seems, as I have 8 books of poetry beside my bed, all of which I've dipped in an out of at the very least, none of which were published before 1940, and just 4 novels, none of which I've touched yet because I've found that I read novels more as ebooks nowadays, oddly.

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