I’m with you that “poetry” drags a lot of cultural freight in its train, while “poetic’s” gone feather-light and attaches itself to movies, basketball players, or flower arrangements without anyone batting an eye. It reminds me a little of Robert Musil’s bit about a “racehorse of genius” in The Man Without Qualities, where our hero, who’s blown his youth striving to be a genius, reads a newspaper article in which the word gets applied in the Sports section to a thoroughbred. Maybe the Modernist equivalent of our habit of calling power forwards “poetry in motion.”
What do you think the reasons are for the stigma attached to “poetry”? It’s supposed be unpopular because of its difficulty. Maybe it has as much to do though with the way poetry habitually gets walled off from everyday life, a sacred space where you can dump all your sincere (and often not particularly difficult) feelings about the war, the miracle of parenthood, or your grandmother’s shingles in a way that’s not permitted in “real life,” where the message is often that nobody much cares.
On the other side, I wonder what it is “poetic” does to avoid the bad odor of “poetry.” Is it the promise of poetry—elevated feelings, a sense of heightened meaning, the compulsion of a significant sigh at the end—without the time investment in all those baffling strings of words? (I don’t mean to say this is what poetry is, but what I think people who prefer “poetic” to “poetry” may mean when they call something that’s not poetry “poetic.”)
Oddly, I’m more often baffled by poetry’s popularity than its neglect. The other night a self-identified slam poet read on the radio to a theater audience. The hollers and whistles at the end, for work that seemed to me to be performing the gestures normally expected of poetry without being especially poetic, surprised me. I’m not used to people reacting to poetry that way, and somehow couldn’t believe they were really applauding for the poetry, but for themselves: for their delight in not hating the thing they expected to giggle or yawn at. How paranoid is that?
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