My wife and I had this argument a few months ago and I believe that if poetry isn’t dead it sure doesn’t have much of a pulse left. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an “I hate poetry” thing. I actually like poetry. I used to write quite a bit myself and even took a poetry writing course in college and got an A (woo hoo… god that was a long time ago). It’s just that to my way of seeing things the audience for poetry has dwindled to nearly non-existent.
Sure we all get some poetry pushed on us in school, but how many people seek out poets to read (current ones not the dead guys) in our daily lives now that we don’t have a teacher pushing us to read it. I’m actually one of those rare (less than 1 in 4) Americans who reads more than 1 book a year but I don’t really read poetry anymore. I will pick up a new poetry book once in a great great while (like maybe one every 2 or 3 years), but I wouldn’t call myself a poetry reader these days.
Of course there are all those magazines which still publish new poetry, but who’s really buying the ones which focus almost exclusively on poetry? My guess is that the majority of people buying those publications are professors and people who want to get published in them.
I have a theory (mind you I have nothing but my own observations to back it up). My theory is that music replaced poetry a long time ago. Back in the day when poetry was big, there were no recording devices. You couldn’t sit down and listen to a song anytime you wished unless you yourself were a musician. So, people read poetry instead. Once sound recordings became available poetry began its slow death. The easier it became to own music the less poetry was read. Music filled that emotional surge that poetry gave and music could often do it with more immediate power. As I said, I love poetry but it doesn’t tend to hit me as hard and as fast as a good song can. Certainly much of the music world is less cerebral than poetry, but that kick that music has is much more visceral. Poetry is often more of a slow build than a quick stab.
Anyway, as I said these are just my thoughts. What do you think? My wife definitely disagrees with me, but then again, in the 15 years I’ve known my wife I have never seen her pick up a book of poetry to read.