I'm still in the midst of Jess Walters' The Zero, which is fascinating and intriguing and wonderful and fine and riveting and disturbing, but I won't post about it until I've finished. I'm also preparing a talk on poetry and writing and craft, so I wandered the stacks and came home with Auden's The Shield of Achilles, The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, a collection of essays called Can Poetry Matter?, and a tiny 1919 Cambridge UP publication entitled The Measures of the Poets. I'm feeling pretty geeked out. Plus, I played 'pileated' (yes, all 7 letters) last night on Words for Friends (on my first play - I'm intimidating like that) and can support my knowledge of that word with personal photos of a pileated woodpecker. Ubergeek.
The first lines of the titular essay in Can Poetry Matter? offer some interesting comments on the state of poetry in contemporary America:
American poetry now belongs to a subculture. No longer part of the mainstream of artistic and intellectual life, it has become the specialized occupation of a relatively small and isolated group. Little of the frenetic activity it generates ever reaches outside that closed group. As a class, poets are not without cultural status. Like priests in a town of agnostics, they still command a certain residual prestige. But as individual artists they are almost invisible. (1)Though I agree with much of what the author, Dana Gioia, is saying here, I disagree with the notion that poets have retained a prestige or higher status; in fact, I would go so far as to argue that poets are often considered the lowest forms of writers. Like the old (and patently false) adage, "those who can't, teach," many would argue, "those who can't write a great american novel write poetry." (For the record, I also take issue with his statement about priests in a town of agnostics; outsiders they most certainly would be, but I do not see how that relationship would grant them prestige.) As a poet (albeit perhaps a bad one), I lament the distance that has grown up around poetry as an enjoyable art. And unfortunately, I'm not sure what, if anything, can be done to stop the decline.
Do you read poetry? If so, who? And do you agree poetry has become a marginalized subculture? Or does it still retain an aura of prestige?