Poetry Doesn't Matter (but you should)
Theatres are concerned about the lack of audience. Poets are concerned about their lack of audience. Classical musicians are concerned. Dance companies are concerned. Every one is filled with concern for the “survival” of their medium.
Yesterday I ran across “Can Poetry Matter?“, an old-but-somewhat-prescient article about the dwindling influence of modern poetry, circulating again through the community.
It’s a good article, but it’s the wrong question.
The Medium is Irrelevant
The established rituals of the poetry world — the readings, small magazines, workshops, and conferences — exhibit a surprising number of self-imposed limitations. Why, for example, does poetry mix so seldom with music, dance, or theater?
I don’t care about poetry. A medium is merely a description - a reduction used for analysis and critique.
Amanda Palmer isn’t successful because “punk-influenced German-expressionist-cabaret keyboard” is a hit genre. She’s not riding a wave, she is the wave. There was no market for mp3 players, but iPods changed the music industry. Lady Gaga is peddling experimental performance art, but you’ll never hear her say it.
Only poets buy “poetry” - everyone else is buying the experience it provides. Stop selling the what, and start selling the why. Sell your aesthetic vision for the world and experiences that can never be forgotten.
Don’t argue that poetry should matter. Prove that you matter.
Finding an Audience is Your Job
Like subsidized farming that grows food no one wants, a poetry industry has been created to serve the interests of the producers and not the consumers.
Poets must recapture the attention of the broader intellectual community by writing for nonspecialist publications. They must also avoid the jargon of contemporary academic criticism and write in a public idiom.
My audience will not search me out. They are not waiting patiently for my next move. If they look at my work and don’t see a way in, they will turn around and leave.
The concern for “poetry” is a nostalgic yearning for a ready-made audience. Let it die. We can do better with the audience that we build for ourselves.
This isn’t a problem, this is an opportunity.