• The View From the Underground: Is Poetry Dead, or Are Poets Just Scared?

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 1 comment

    Finding Your Writing VoiceFor those of you not plugged in, Alexandra Petri wrote an article recently for the Washington Post entitled “Is Poetry Dead?” I will not link to it here. It has already gotten too much attention and does not deserve another pingback.

    First, when I was living abroad I would get rather irate and abrasive whenever I would hear someone speak ill about America. America, my home: I rue every moment my feet touch its soil and hate with every fiber of my being the completely disillusioned values, the daily travesties, and the science experiments big business conducts on it citizens. But no one talks shit about my family but me.

    Alexandra Petri isn’t a poet.

    Second, whatever. Let her think—let all of them think—that poetry is dead. Ghosts get the better view of the world anyway.

    I could say a whole bunch of shit like: to even state that poetry is dead, or could be dead, is to completely misconceptualize what poetry stands for (and no, misconceptualize isn’t a word. Poetry.).

    But I won’t. I don’t care. Or at least, I care less than I’m letting on here.

    I’ll admit, fire rose in my eyes when I read that Petri thought “what we mean by poetry is a limp and fangless thing.” I could have broken a nose or two with the spine of a Kay Ryan book.

    But really the only way to get anyone to read your shit online anymore is to make wild and outrageous claims. The Internet is flooded with so many panting dogs. Chihuahuas and German Shepherds both spell “bark” the same way, one just has to yap a little more for attention. I don’t blame Petri, really. And I do wholly think poetry needs a swift kick in the ass, so why not have it come from an outsider questioning its validity. I’ll admit I’ve thought it before. But then, this is my home. This is where I live.

    So, no one’s work is currently matching up to the Divine Comedy or The Odyssey. So what? The literary canon is forged over time. Literary importance is bestowed, not just inherent. Who knows what any poet will be in the future besides dead. And can’t the cogency of poetry also be said for all classical forms of contemporary art? Yes, there is just a lot more money in oil, but for how much longer? How many of those young artists could have been the next Van Gogh but never touch oil and are now sitting behind a computer doing graphic design for a dental office? How many could have been the next Whitman but instead of standing in an open field broke and naked sat at a desk inserting SEO keywords into some article they shat out?

    Maybe poetry isn’t dead. Maybe the poets aren’t alive. Maybe we’re all too afraid to throw it all away and just write poetry and only poetry. To forget health insurance and let that upper groin lump grow, praying it doesn’t take you until you’ve finished that last chapbook. To let go of mortgage payments and live like a monk on handouts. Show me the mangled artist who gives it all up for poetry and gracefully puts a shotgun to the dome or walks into the river with a stone coat.

    Save this overfed diabetes and cancer culture. Take the gutter over a cubicle. Be a nothing no-name alcoholic scarred broke vagrant poet rather than some dead-on-your-feet HMO-shielded journalist marketeer.

    If you hold the opinion that poetry is dead, keep your opinions. In fact, keep your money. Keep your fame. Keep your notoriety. And if you are opening lit mags with that attitude, keep your fucking readership.


    headshotBrent Michael Canle is a poet and writer from Long Island, N.Y. His work has appeared in Poesy, Sweet: A Literary Confection, Best Poem, and many Inboxes.

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    Laura Roberts

    Where are all the good men dead: in the heart or in the head?

    False dichotomies have always bothered me. At least that one is poetic. For someone without a poetic bone in her body to attack poetry, and poets, is not only absurd but suggests a stunted poet peevishly poking at those who dared. (And is she really starting a lit mag? WTF is she thinking?!)

    Maybe she should read that Onion article that’s also been going around… the one about doing what you love, but only in the evenings and on weekends.

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