Tuesday, January 29, 2008

People's Poetry

A languourous dive through the blogroll this weekend hauled up in ideogrammic conjunction Reginald Shepherd's conference room kerfuffle with Adam Kirsch over poetry's popularity, and Stephen Vincent's account of reading Kyger aloud to his 91-year-old mother. (Vincent's clear-eyed posts about his mother's response to poetry as her mind slips are among my favorite in blogland.)

Stephen's post reminds me how often the giant machinery of poetry—all those schools, CVs, conferences, retreats, blogs, publishers, and reviews that eat up so much of the foreground for those of us hustling in the art—ratchets down to a one-on-one encounter with a reader that no grant can really measure. True of all the arts, but especially so with poetry, where there's no reliable yardstick of "the popular." For all the welcome talk about community, poetry's paradoxically most political and subversive, for me at least, where it's most anti-social; where it turns the late-capitalist pyramid on its head, putting its trees and factories and foundries and editors and ink at the service, for an instant, of the 91-year-old person who listens.

Do poets want to be popular? Or is the taller order wanting to be heard?

9 comments:

Angela Genusa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wade said...

I am often surprised at how popular poetry is on the nonprofessional level. I always ask my composition students to write about their experiences with writing, and I always get four or five students in each class who say they love to write poetry. Granted, most of them know almost nothing about poetry (and many still consider a poem as something that rhymes), but they do have an appreciation and love for poetry and putting words together.

It kind of reminds me of bluegrass, an art form in which most of the audience takes part.

C. Dale said...

I think most of us want to be read ("heard"). Popularity is subjective and fleeting.

rodney k said...

"Poetry is bluegrass that stays bluegrass."

--EP

Tim said...

Rodney, I was so inspired by your post that I immediately went out to see a show at CBGBs, only to find out that it had CLOSED! My goodness!

Ryan said...

popular, populous or populist?

Tim said...

Speaking now with the other side of my mouth, I applaud what you say here about listening and about the audience for writing being an individual one. I've found that writers are like cats and that they're better in a one-on-one scenario, or even in the sense of writers talking to non-writers. But I don't think what you're describing is anti-social, I think it's kind of intimate and sincere in a way, like the building blocks of the social.

rodney k said...

Hi Tim,

I was thinking too that "anti-social" was a little too strong. I like the way you put it here.

Poet with a Day Job said...

I think people say they want to be "heard" or "read" but unfortunately in our current culture, being heard or read means being popular. And we all know how our society values popularity: as god.

It is very difficult to keep wanting to connect and being popular separate. It takes a certain drive to stay focused on the work for the sake of the work - the process - not some end result (publishing, awards, etc.)

Thanks - love this post.