Monday, January 11, 2010

Metrophobia: Poetry as Last House on the Left

Are you afraid of poetry?

I’m afraid of it only to the extent that it has given me some sense of the awesome power of language to expand awareness. So, to some extent poetry is a conduit that has increased my awareness and an expanded awareness can seem to shift our perspective and unfamiliar ground can be frightening, but can’t that particular definition of frightening also be more aptly described as “exhilarating”? My two cents.

There's an interesting post at Robert Archambeau's great blog, Samizdat, re: “poetry is being read by an ever-smaller slice of the American reading public” which begs the question “is it being taught ‘wrong’”?

When poetry is defined as 'self-expression,' which is how I believe that it might be taught at the high school level, then students of poetry walk away with a stunted awareness of the possibilities of language. In fact, most would probably opt to get their self-expression ya-yas out in any other way that might be construed as more "fun." Making a movie for YouTube or starting a rock band for example. Poetry is a distinct art form with distinct tricks of the trade. If no awareness of craft is imbued in students then there won't be any appreciation of the multi-levels of meaning and the depth of observation apparent in poetry that was written by the most skilled practitioners of the art.

(And further “news” today at HuffPo about the issue.)

Of course, the fact that fewer people seem to be reading poetry can also have much to do with the fact that we’re witnessing a huge shift in how information itself is being transmitted. From newspapers and books to the Internet, for example. You’re reading this now via computer screen rather than a printed page, but I’m glad you tuned in. Here are a few poems that can help you to expand your own parameters. (This is a pic of Drew Barrymore after her first reading of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.)

Here are a few poems that are well worth the fright.

Song by Frank O’Hara

from Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein

No Liquor in the House by Kenward Elmslie

Two Poems by Nicanor Parra

Five Poems by Aimé Césaire (trans. by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman)

To Brooklyn Bridge by Hart Crane