That old snake “poetry is dead” has reared its ugly head again. I say we socially assassinate the next person to use it. I say ‘use it’ as opposed to ‘says it’ because I believe poetry is the victim here. Seriously, how much more stupid a statement can a person make using only 3 words? I can hear a bunch of you right now trying to find 3 words more stupid, and no, saying “I love you” to that lying cheating asshole doesn’t count. I mean, I can understand someone saying some shit like “where’s all the ‘real’ hip hop at?” Because, although this is also rather imprudent, a word called ‘semantics’ at the very least allows for stupidity of this kind to flourish. And that’s because ‘real’ is relative. But at least asking “where the ‘real’ hip hop is at”, mildly suggests that hip-hop is still living, and maybe having difficulty breathing or something. But poetry? Dead? For real? Like when last did you enjoy anything in the literature field that didn’t have a remote connection to poetry? And to be certain, that’s basically every song with lyrics, book, advert with words, gift cards, slogans, speeches, and any movie with words…like for real now, try saying any famous quote unpoetically! I dare you to try!
So they say poetry is dead. Well, I decided to perform a quick autopsy on the matter.
This year in April (National Poetry Month in the US), because for some reason the US is the president of the everything that’s true, The Washington Post published a blog posting by Christopher Ingraham who self-diagnosed the tragic prognosis, breaking poetry’s symptoms down scientifically. Apparently fewer people read poetry now than ever before. This is according to the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. According to them reading poetry is about half as popular as knitting. And while you may courageously be thinking that perhaps the internet has something to do with hard copy readerships declining, Google concurs with Ingraham’s suspicions, showing that there are 5 times less searches for “poetry” now than 10 years ago.
But that’s not all. You’d think that the announcement of Juan Felipe Herrera as the first Latino poet laureate in the US just last month would be worthy of some celebration, but no… Brandon Griggs a senior producer with CNN Digital made the announcement on an article headlined “Does poetry still matter?”. But Griggs on the other hand at least had the decency to look into different poetry scenes and facets of literature, going as far back as the 16th century to date. But even then, he could only muster up the courage to namedrop the likes of Dante, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot all the way to Maya Angelou.
I’m flabbergasted by a present day reflection on the state of poetry that has no mention of Saul Williams, Sarah Jones, Staceyann Chin or Sekou Sundiata! That has no mention of poets born offshore from the all-knowing and all-might United States Jonzi D, Roger Bonair-Agard, Suheir Hammad and many more. And since I rate our local poetry quite high, though not all-knowing and all-mighty, the same can truly be said of a present day look at the state of poetry that excludes the likes of Xabiso’s My Skin Crawls, Apiwe’s Save Me, Koleka Putuma, Mutle Mothibe and Vuyelwa Maluleke and the list goes on.
So I did what everyone should do when told that they’re dead, and went looking for a second opinion. And found a Huffington Post article that paints a very different picture of poetry’s vital signs than that of Ingraham and Griggs. In the article, Jennifer Benka, the Executive director of American Academy of Poets writes, “Poets who had focused on publishing in print, are now making videos and podcasts of their work… Thanks to digital platforms, the walls between poets, and poets and their readers, have never been more porous.” Librarians are hosting readings, minority groups are forming poetry societies, regional poet laureates are crowned, and even the youngsters are getting in on the act with youth poetry organisations awarding their own youth poet laureates. Poetry Out Loud, a recitation contest (the Spelling Bee of poetry) for teens, last year had over a quarter of a million entrants. Seemingly poetry in the States (and I believe all over the world) is getting a young innovative adrenalin boost that old school journalism is too outdated to follow correctly.
Benka follows up her awesome research by debunking the measurement by which poetry was deemed to be dying; the Google Trends graph that showed searches for the word “poetry” declining. Clearly illustrating that, by merely changing the search word from “poetry” to “poem” a completely different relatively stable graph appears. Click here to see the graph. I took this one step further though and decided to pit poetry up against well-known successful or mainstream genres, like novels, articles, and hip-hop…not only were they all also declining, which apparently means death, but the search for “novels” was almost four times less than that of “poem” (My expert analysis, you can be an expert too, click on the link and have fun with it). So if poetry was dying…surely novels were already comatose or braindead or on life-support!
I hope that this settles it then. I’verecently popped my head up from an extended sabbatical from the performance poetry scene and have recently gone out and seen our local poets ripping mics to shreds. Poetry couldn’t be more alive and vibrant than it is today, and the Spoken Word is currently its most popular form at this present stage, but rest assured as certain as I know poetry will never die, it will find other forms to live out eternity in.
“My theories are mics/Sony or Aiwa/Black or white/I fit in all stereotypes” – Wordsworth
No, not the William Wordsworth, the poet from the 18th century… Wordsworth as in ‘Punchline and Wordsworth’… as in the rapper… as in the poet who wrote my favourite line in hip-hop. A line like that… does not die and therefore the genre it represents exists perpetually!