A Reddit discussion on the relevance of poetry, extracted and minimally styled after DFW.



Oh my god, everyone.


Poetry is meaningless, cars are meaningless, thoughts are meaningless, action is meaningless, airplanes are meaningless, babies are meaningless… UNLESS they do something. That has broad implications, but this is a fact.

Cliche. Cliche. Cliche.

Everyone’s always arguing about the death/rebirth of poetry. Poetry hasn’t mattered on a conventional scale since… when? The industrial revolution? (That’s someone else’s sign post…) Since… The capitalist revolution.

You can’t sell a poem. You can’t BUY a poem. But Poetry can kill someone. A poem can take you from here to there. Poetry can kill you. Poetry can feed you. Poetry can pay for college and do keg stands and still earn an impossible 5.0.

If poetry means anything to you: Write it.

If you want to eat poetry: Fry it up and chow down.

If you want poetry to buy you a Maserati: Sew some poems together and pass them off for debit bucks.

If you want to craft poetry to change the word: WRITE A POEM THAT MATTERS.

I imagine this sounds like an indictment of poets, but really it’s an indictment on stupidity and complacency and the lowest common denominator that feeds a capitalist society. Poetry doesn’t work here because it’s not a big pink exploding orgasm of cash and communication, it functions in “myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.[1] 

A poem made me put my shopping cart back at the supermarket. A poem taught me to help a single mom carry her carriage down the steps of a subway station. A poem taught me how to smile in traffic (and engage in a proper zipper merge.)

That translates to a whole lot of “Who gives a shit?” But, really, think about it: The biggest problems of our time — war, poverty, racism, sexism, fast food, terrorism, reality TV — stretch out of a severe lack of empathy.

Poetry — the good stuff anyway — allows us to talk to each other intimately across the borders of death and distance and class and language.

You know?

Like I said… If poetry means anything to you you’ve GOT to write it. It’s not an option. (Even if your poetry sucks and no one would trade an ounce of spit for it… you eventually will get it to where it needs to be. Just keep writing.)

That’s why.



I’m not arguing with your asking of the question. I’m arguing with the idea that the standards are the same between poetry and other arts and therefore poetry isn’t important or relevant.

You’re holding (many people hold) poetry up to a false standard. Big corporations don’t make huge cash from poetry: That’s the only way that poetry isn’t as highly valued as film, painting or music.

I can assure you to the THINKING public poetry is valued. Maybe not to the GENERAL public.

Now, think really hard about the GENERAL public. They like The Walking Dead, Interstellar, Imagine Dragons, Kanye West, (I’m hesitant to put contemporary art on this list because i suspect the average person doesn’t really doesn’t know) Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, etc etc etc.

What I’m proposing is that that work and the work of those artists has several large, hulking, wampum-powered machines behind them that tell the average person to like them. NPR, NYT, press agencies, ArtForum, paid bloggers, etc, stand beside Jeff Koons and send up fucking fireworks. Why would you not pay attention?

So what does that say about the (non-monetary) value of the work? NOTHING. What does that say about the relevance of the work? Well, that’s a more complicated question…

This is a similar question to the one the news industry is going through.

News is devalued because news is powerful and unpredictable and often bites the hand that feeds it. (Sound familiar.) Think about the patrons of the great poets. Think about Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post. (A thin analogy perhaps, I’m not in JB’s head: I don’t know his intentions (vanity? profit? enlightenment? adventure?))

So is your question: “How can we make poetry THRIVE!?” or “Why isn’t poetry thriving?”

or is it:

“Why isn’t poetry relevant?”

Because poetry *is* relevant (because I say so, and you can, too) and its importance is manifold.

Like I said: Poetry can kill or save or lift a people up or clarify thought (a la that very apropos quote via u/purplemarker) or do nothing or slither under your skin.

The great thing about poetry is anyone can do it.

The terrible thing about poetry is anyone can do it.

Writing it requires great intelligence and creativity and blood-curdling persistence.

Writing it only requires ~~a decent pen~~ a brain.

Reading it, however… well, reading it, unlike many other arts… requires the same set of tools that the author/artist possesses. I hadn’t thought of that before. That’s another INTRINSIC value of poetry. Can’t sell it, but there it is.

So, I guess the answer to your question is two-fold: externally poetry isn’t as widely appreciated anymore because there are many arts now that require much less of the observer. Poetry will always be “JUST WORDS.” (And that’s a great thing.) This makes poetry’s potential market share … como sei dici … umm … negligible? (That’s not exactly the right word, but, moving on…)

[Side note: When you intro a new dynamic format for poetry — slam, parole in libertà, for example  — you will bring more consumers into the fold. Some will translate into readers others will return to the popular culture unfazed. So it goes.]

Secondly, a base analogy: poetry is like fucking. It’s great. It’s risky. It’s a challenge. It’s invigorating. It’s transcendent.

Masturbation is always an option, but it just doesn’t have the same charge to it.

No one has to justify the pleasures of sex to you. However, some people don’t like it. Some people don’t have great experiences, memories, whatever, around it. That’s fine. Your experience with fucking shouldn’t be hitched to John Smith’s sexual realities. You keep fucking (reading, writing) BECAUSE IT’S FUUUUCCCCKING.

And then there’s that nasty, inconvenient love part…

And then there’s that nasty, inconvenient propagation part…

(I could go on for ever with this analogy.)

Anyway, read poetry and you’ll find your answer. Read criticism and you’ll find more answers. Surround yourself with poetry and you’ll go super saiyan with love and empathy and respect and good will.

Your question is a fine one, the answer isn’t so simple. Instead of quoting or linking you to someone else’s passion, I told you mine.

Nonetheless, here are some links to enrich yourself that have definitely touched me:

* http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~wh/

* http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audiolanding

* https://soundcloud.com/newyorker

* http://www.amazon.com/New-Media-Poetics-Contexts-Technotexts/dp/0262513382/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417527570&sr=1-1

* http://www.amazon.com/Attack-Difficult-Poems-Essays-Inventions/dp/0226044777/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417527630&sr=1-5&keywords=charles+bernstein

* http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/bernstein/

* http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/30/the-art-of-poetry-no-87-paul-muldoon

* http://www.righthandpointing.net/

(Also go see poetry readings.) etc etc etc

Thanks for asking about poetry.

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