“My life has been the poem I would have writ, / But I could not both live and utter it,” wrote Henry David Thoreau.
It appears that most college students have chosen to live their ‘poetic’ lives, because they certainly aren’t writing poetry.
I must admit: I love poetry. Appreciation for poetry seems so rare among college kids that admitting my affinity for it feels almost like a confession. I recently shocked a friend when I mentioned that I was reading some Charles Bukowski. “How could anyone actually enjoy poetry?” he asked. That’s when I realized that I can’t explain why I like poetry so much. I couldn’t even properly define poetry. Poetry is what poets do, and what poets do is poetry. Without any logical defense, I resorted to quoting John Donne: “For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love.”
The exchange got me thinking. Is poetry dead? Has it ended, not with a bang, but a whimper? Was Adrian Mitchell correct when he said, “Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people”?
Corey Schneider, a freshman and journalism student, isn’t a fan of poetry. What’s expressed in poetry, he says, could just as effectively be expressed in “normal” writing form. Caroline Crain, a freshman from Dallas, agreed. “I don’t like poetry,” she said. “It’s either random and pointless or too hard to understand. While it may be important and interesting to some, it’s just not very relevant to most students.”
Let’s be honest. How many living poets could the average college student name? When was the last time a poet was on The New York Times best-seller list?
But to many, poetry is still something to be cherished. Chris Axmann, a member of the Plan II Poetry Society, says, “Poetry is a dying art, but no more so than any other type of literature.
There’s not much emphasis on introspection and self-analysis anymore. Especially in college, standardized grades and evaluations limit creativity. Not many kids are getting into poetry anymore, and I think that’s because it doesn’t involve the instant gratification that new media provides.”
Axmann says that much of the expression of poetry is unique to poetry as an art form. In the same way that a painting can express things that a photograph can’t, poetry expresses feelings that prose can’t always convey.
On the other hand, Paul Ruffin, 2009 Texas State Poet Laureate, has little doubt that poetry is alive and well. “It’s not a dying art form,” he said. “It was here at the beginning of man’s awareness of the world he lived in, when he celebrated life around a campfire in the middle of the desolation of an awakening world, and it will be here at the end, when man will celebrate life around a campfire in the middle of the desolation of a dying world.”
He summed up my views of poetry beautifully: “If life is relevant, then poetry is relevant. It is awfully hard to make much sense of life these days as we slip deeper and deeper into the technological morass of this century, but no matter what our existential trappings, we are still human beings doing the best we can in an increasingly complicated world. Poetry will help us deal with it.”
However, I do disagree with him on one point. Although not dead yet, poetry does seem to be dying. It will be a sad funeral I will attend when it happens, but our short time left with poetry makes it that much more important to enjoy it now. I’m not asking much: simply take five or 10 minutes once a day — or even once a week — and read a poem.
And to poetry itself, just listen to Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night. / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas.
Printed on Friday, October 5, 2012 as: Poetic triage