People rarely spark up conversation about the latest poet to hit the scene, especially during college years. We aren’t running to hear poetry readings – we’re running to the bars to let our hair down and relax. Who wants to spend spare time reading symbolic metaphors after racking the brain with economic equations and scientific facts?
We look down the path that leads to a future career and focus our attention on our majors and minors, both of which seem much more important than silly poems. However, if we stopped for one second to read 20th- and 21st-century poetry, we would see these poets actually relate quite well to the issues young adults face each day.
If you try to name any current poets, even going back to the early 1900s, and can’t count them on one hand, you’re not alone. The majority of our nation forgot about poetry the second it met its high school requirements, leaving Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau behind it. But poetry isn’t dead.
Newsweek’s Bruce Wexler writes in a 2003 article “that poetry is the only art form where the number of people creating it is far greater than the number of people appreciating it.” But Wexler (along with the majority of our nation) looks at poetry as something that’s not prevalent in our everyday lives, writing, “If you’re like me, untangling symbol and allusion seems as irrelevant now as it did in high school.”
While Mr. Wexler’s statements may be true for some, they probably made poets Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and T.S. Elliot roll over in their graves. Poetry is meant to evoke an emotional response in its readers, and 20th century poets did a remarkable job bringing those emotions out of us.
Ginsberg was one of the most prominent poets to come on the scene during the 1950s, and he alone changed the way poetry was written. His entire goal in writing was to engage audience participation, both physically and emotionally. And engage he did. According to the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry Vol. 2, “Ginsberg’s poetry presented an alternative to tightly-organized, well-mannered poetry,” and forced poets to express themselves during times of crisis, war and depression.
Ignoring the tone of Wexler’s voice, we see his article was not meant to be a poet-bashing rant. In fact, he gives poets credit by saying, “I really do believe that poetry is the highest form of writing.”
Despite his comments about poetry, Wexler’s article evoked interesting responses to his statements.
On About.com, someone responded to Wexler’s piece with a story titled “Once Again, Poetry Is Dead? It must be true because Newsweek said it.” The responder does not agree with anything Wexler has to say, and in fact, he raises the question, “Who the hell is Bruce Wexler?”
So it looks like the jury is still out on whether or not poetry is dead in America. My advice to you? Pick up a contemporary book of poems and check it out for yourself.
Christina Reisenweber is a graduate student from Laguna Hills, Ca.