Today – once again after a horribly painful morning (as I’ve been complaining to people today, it felt like someone was reeeeally slowly performing a nice little lobotomy on my temples and forehead at once) – I went to school to hand in my Boy Band project with my friend, and spend two hours listening to other colleagues presentations. I can’t say I went to English class since it wasn’t really a class, just presentations one after another, and I hadn’t brought anything but my notebook and pencase with me, no material for class whatsoever.
The reason I eventually got up and left for school (if not for the project) was, indeed, one of these presentations. I had seen the article – we all had to choose an article to present and talk about different aspects of them for about an hour – earlier, when my colleague was sitting next to me and reading it, and the title seemed so interesting that I knew I wanted to hear the presentation. The article is entitled Poetry Is Dead. Does Anybody Really Care?, and it was published in Newsweek in 2003.
My idea here is not to give another presentation on the article, you can all read it for yourself on the Newsweek website.
The presentation – and the article – caused me to think further about some things.
As horrible as it might sound, I too, and way too often, find horribly unconvincing excuses so as not to read a little more when it comes to poetry. I find it especially obnoxious when it is done by people who themselves write poems, since these people should know perfectly well that if they don’t read the works of others, how can they expect others to read their works? I’m currently – supposedly – reading Tennyson’s In Memoriam, but stuff got in the way, as usual, and I have not finished it yet. Of course by now I’ve forgotten what I’ve read… Might be better to just start again, quite simply.
I’ve been reading poetry, though, even if not as ‘seriously’, or with the intention to focus on one particular work for a longer time, to really get into it. Mostly just for the fun for it. The poems referred to here are, of course, ones found on the Finnish art site I use, but even there, where the poems are not exactly difficult to understand, I often skip the longer ones. I don’t have the patience for it. Which is interesting, because I can read my own longer poems 18 times in a row and be happy about it. Then again, I’ve always been more interested in my own poetry and stories than those of others, no matter how old and famous the author. I’m just hoping I’m not the only one and that it’s more or less normal to feel that way. I mean, to me it makes sense; when you really out your heart into something, and include meanings in it that are important to YOU, how could it not feel like the best thing ever written – even if it’s indeed not very well-written.
So, I guess I have to admit that I am, unfortunately, also contributing to the dying of Poetry. But at least I’m trying to make it a pretty funeral, with my own sad songs to play in the ceremony.
During the presentation, then, it was made clear that there are two main reasons why people are not interested in reading poetry nowadays; no time, no patience.
The former is of course merely an excuse, one of which I use myself as well (shame on me!), but the latter can be considered a real issue, at least in my opinion. I don’t have patience for anything, let alone for reading a poem from someone I don’t know, an author I haven’t read anything from before, for example. Who knows, maybe after a good five minutes of reading a poem I notice that I have wasted my time on something that does not ‘enrich my soul’ in any way, but is mostly a badly written collection of meaningless words. Or then, if I have to read something for school purposes, might be that I have to spend hours, in fact, to understand a poem properly, and who in the world has time for that? I don’t, but I have to make time for it, because I happen to be a student in a course of Literature.
When I was working on Emily Bronte’s poem “The Night Is Darkening Round Me”, and I couldn’t really find any helpful information in any book I consulted, or even online, I got really frustrated. I had no idea who the narrator was, where they were, what was happening, and so on. (This is why I wanted to post my results here on the blog, for other poor souls out there, and it has actually been one of the most read posts of the blog.)
So, this sparked a funny idea; what about a book, Poetry for Dummies? Not as in those yellow and black books that tell you everything from the beginning and so on, but one in which, before the poem – or perhaps after would be better – the reader would find a nifty little description about the text they just read/are just about to read. Just to take off the excess complexity of the poem, giving info on what the poem is really trying to say, or what is happening and to who, depending on the poem itself, of course.
At least people couldn’t say they didn’t get it, anymore, and use it as a reason not to read poetry.
One thing I don’t understand. In the article the author states that nowadays people want ‘narrative-driven forms, stand-alone art that doesn’t require an understanding of the larger context’. Isn’t this what a poem is, essentially? It’s, usually, a short piece of text, readable as it is, not necessarily having anything to do with anything (I know, I know, all literature is somehow connected, but you get the idea). If counting the time needed to read a poem, and, given it is not very difficult to understand, the time needed to internalize the meaning, it takes maybe an hour to be done with a poem, at max. With short stories the reading part takes longer, depending on the story, and they are also often written in a way that makes you wonder about the meaning for a longer time, just as you do with poetry. Novels, then… Well, even if the story is very straightforward and you don’t need to think about it long after you finish it (I certainly think about novels more than poems when I’m done reading them), it will still take much more of your time to read it! A poem is the shortest one of all… Yes, it may not have a narrative, but at least you don’t forget what happened when you pick up the book again.
Also, at least in my opinion, books – being longer and all that – often include a lot more references to other things outside the story, and in some cases, if you are not familiar with a certain issue, you will lose something important. Some older poets, too, I admit, used a lot of myths and legends in their poems, but if chosen something more contemporary, or just quite simply a different poet from the same period as the first, these references may not be there anymore.
People who say they don’t enjoy poetry because it is difficult should be braver to explore their options; there’s poetry of all kinds out there.
It’s a shame, really. Even in our course of European Literatures, only a few seem genuinly interested in poetry. Some have no interest in literature of any kind, and have chosen the course only for the language side of it. Would be nice to be able to feel more connected to others who also write and enjoy poetry, to sort of ‘compare notes’, but what can you do.
They ended their presentation with a nice little poem, though, written by one of them. I wish I had written it down, it was so pretty.