redundant verse?

For my inaugural post on poetbloggs I’m going back to the very beginning. Before a pen has even been picked up. Before a thought or a line has even been dreamt of. I am going to ask the question, what good is it?

Has poetry passed it’s sell-by-date so to speak?

An article from Adrienne Rich last weekend (18th November) quotes heavily from Shelley and his ideas of poetry as a way into revolution. Shelley’s claimed that ‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’. And perhaps, at the time, Shelley had a point. People read poetry, and listened to what it said then. (People still read poetry; perhaps they are just not listening anymore).

Rich considers what she calls the ‘free market critique of poetry’ in the article;

Poetry has been written-off on other counts: it’s not a mass-market “product”, it doesn’t get sold on airport newsstands or in supermarket aisles; it’s too “difficult” for the average mind; it’s too elite, but the wealthy don’t bid for it at Sotheby’s; it is, in short, redundant.”

And later reveals her view, the romantic outlook. A view that is becoming more and more redundant, if the free market critique is to be believed.

When poetry lays its hand on our shoulder we are, to an almost physical degree, touched and moved. The imagination’s roads open before us, giving the lie to that brute dictum, “There is no alternative”.”

In truth, both are correct. Poetry has got that effect. At some point in every reader’s life they will be touched by a work. It might not be a famous piece, but it will remain with the reader for life. Poetry however no longer has the power to overthrow corrupt governments or turn economies on their heads.

There is a reason it is not sold on newsstands in airports. People don’t read poetry for advice on living their day-to-day lives. Or who to vote for in the next local election. Literature has taken a new place with readers. And poetry didn’t move with the rest of the art. Fiction has become the major player in influencing thought, and most of that influence comes from being made in to a movie.

When was the last time a poem made the cut for a multi-million pound deal on the silver screen?

What am I getting at? I am posing the question of, why write it at all? Does it serve another purpose to the reader? To society? Or is Rich right when she says

There is always that in poetry which will not be grasped, which cannot be described, which survives our ardent attention, our critical theories, our late-night arguments.’’

Has poetry still got a purpose?


the link to the Guardian article.
Litkicks covered the article during the week -pb.


6 Responses to “redundant verse?”

  1. 1 imani November 27, 2006 at 12:29 am

    I reject the notion that any work of art has to “serve a purpose”, especially if the context is political. But if it makes the free marketers feel better, “Paradise Lost” is being made into a movie.

  2. 2 GF November 27, 2006 at 7:13 am

    I agree that art does not need to serve a purpose, but in a historical context, poetry has lost much of the influence it once had over people.
    Fiction/prose writers have replaced the poet as a major player in public opinion. Should any art form have the power to influence?

  3. 3 imani November 28, 2006 at 3:17 am

    I would say it is arguable that fiction writers are a major player in public opinion, as far as politics go, in a North American context. There is Salman Rushdie who could perhaps qualify but who else? PEN as a group has some clout, but it is not through the medium of their art, IMO. I do not know how it is elsewhere.

    Art can influence politics the same way just about anything else can. Should it? I don’t see anything objectionable about the concept of art in general that would make that a bad thing.

  4. 4 GF November 28, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    Dan Brown influenced a lot of peoples ideas on religion with his books (although not politics, religion is another governing force of peoples lives)

    Rich’s argument is that poetry still has an influence. Although, the world is probably a safer place now that poetry has less influence on real world events.

  1. 1 poetbloggs Trackback on November 27, 2006 at 5:02 pm
  2. 2 my own redundant verse at poetbloggs Trackback on December 13, 2006 at 5:07 pm

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