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Critics question the relevance of poetry

Bai Le | 2014-03-21 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today
                                                   The Daily Utah Chronicle
The Salt Lake City National Poetry Slam team from Cambridge competes against more than 70 other teams from across the United States and Canada.
2014 is the 75th anniversary of the eminent Irish poet William Butler Yeats’s death, and also marks the second year since the passing of the famous Polish Poet Wislawa Szymborska. Few living poets enjoy the status of Yeats and Szymborska, and even still, their works are quietly praised rather than spiritedly celebrated. Increasingly, their commemoration is confined to cultured intellectuals and poetry fans.
In a blog entry for The Washington Post entitled “Is poetry dead?” last year, Alexandra Petri called the art form obsolete, arousing controversy among writers and academics. “Poetry used to be that if you were young and you wanted to Change Things with your Words, you darted off and wrote poetry somewhere. You got together with friends at cafes and you wrote verses and talked revolution. Now that is the last thing you do.” Between the lines, Petri expressed her concern for the current state of American poetry. Lamenting both that poetry has become both too institutionalized and the level of cultivation required to write it has been set too low, she observes that few respected channels remain for serious aspiring poets. Their option is simply to “spray it liberally onto the Internet and hope it sticks,” she quips.
Among other responses, Coldfront Editor-in-chief John Deeming’s quick rejoinder argued that, poetry is in fact thriving. “A requirement of political change is too much to ask of any artist,” he wrote, implying that Petri’s criticisms were naive and narrow on several fronts.
The American writer Leonard Bacon traced what he saw as the declining quality of American poetry after the 19th century to a desire to imitate European cultural modes. He believed American poets began placing too much emphasis on form and diction, at the expense of their overall craft.
Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish philosopher and historian, articulated the unique view that poetry belongs to the childhood of humankind. According to Carlyle, poetry will inevitably decline as human society evolves.
What is the true state of contemporary poetry? Does poetry have a future? These are questions thought-provoking, but they are not new.
When young, Keats was said to have toasted: “Confusion to the memory of Sir Isaac Newton.” Supposedly, when asked to explain he said “Newton destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism.”
Edgar Allen Poe’s “Sonnet—To Science”, published in 1829, reacts against what Poe perceived as the threatening influence of scientific development for poetry and other creative pursuits. Science, personified as a vulture, interrupts the poet’s fantasies and disturbs his attempts to reflect peacefully seated under a tree.
Poe and Yeats’ view has not been held universally by poets, however. Huang Nubo, a contemporary Chinese poet, remarked that while science may destroy the beauty of poetry, poetry should serve more than art. If poetry addresses a world completely devoid of science and real life and composed exclusively of the “unitary inner being” of poets, it will distance itself from the lives and concerns of humanity at large, Huang reflected. In his view, an exceptional poem will draw a certain level of inspiration from reality. He believes that many contemporary Western poets fail to achieve this because Western society lacks dynamism and novelty, and thus is unable to stimulate a new aesthetic.
Writing in the early 20th century, the American critic Henry Canby described what he saw as incongruity with poetry and the present era. In a time when individual emotion and society are in conflict with each other, poetry can hardly speak tothe general reader.