Is Poetry Dead?

The aim of writing poetry is, for the most part …

  • To make money,
  • To expose the poet’s thinking and feeling,
  • To allow the reader to share the poet’s experience,
  • To impress chicks.

Well, if you said, “To make money” you are a true capitalist but somewhat of an idiot. Here’s what John Keating says about poetry in the film, Dead Poet’s Society:

Dead PoetsWe don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

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Comes the blind Fury

MiltonWhen I was studying literature many many years ago, I loved poetry. It was the sixties so William Blake was very popular (along with J. R. R. Tolkein) but my favorites were Alexander Pope, John Keats, and John Milton. You might wonder how a devout Atheist with tendencies toward anarchism and a penchant for bizarre fiction can even read John Milton, let alone declare that Milton is a favorite poet. To keep it simple: Milton is a great poet.

Even if I don’t exactly agree with his religious or political practices or even find that he was a nice guy: his poetry is great!

I was looking up something earlier and ran across a copy of Milton’s Lycidas. I read through it three times and each time became more and more aware of my life-long love of literature and a certain regret for all the aspirations I had in my early twenties that are now just a fading memory. You might have your Prufrock or your Howl, but for me it’s Lycidas. Remember how it goes …

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I stood tip-toe on a little hill

Throughout my years of reading, teaching, discussing, appreciating literature I have tossed off a few pithy phrases that sometimes help to get the discussion going and sometimes shut it down and make immediate adversaries of everyone around me. I suppose it depends of the room I am playing at the time.

It’s All Fiction

This one I absolutely stand by—all writing is fiction—it may seem real but it is all filtered by the human imagination and intellect. People have argued that if history is fiction then the Holocaust didn’t happen. See the fallacy here? I didn’t say that the events in the history of the world were fiction, only that the writing about those events is fiction. All writers, whether they are involved with fiction or that bookstore categorization, non-fiction, select what they will write and how they will write it. Do you know they place Glenn Beck in the non-fiction shelves. That should tell you  … It’s all fiction!

All great English Literature is written by the Irish

This one has many exceptions but even so, think of the great writers of English Literature:  Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, Laurence Sterne, Sean O’Casey, John M. Synge, Elizabeth Bowen, Samuel Beckett, Brian O’Nolan, William Congreve, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, John Banville, George Berhard Shaw, Maria Edgeworth, George Moore, Charles Maturin, C. S. Lewis, Edna O’Brien, Bram Stoker, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, … and many more.

To be a great poet you have to either die of consumption or a venereal disease, preferably at a young age

This one shows my focus on the English Romantic poets as an undergraduate (I shifted to Restoration Drama in graduate school). I’m sure that the list of English poets who died of old age is quite impressive, but for a while there, I didn’t know if I should cough or just head for the opium den.

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