Not getting modern poetry readings

Just an aside: I ran across this fantastic piece from today’s NaPoWriMo link, HTML Giant written by Bethany Prosseda: “I don’t ‘get’ poetry readings”.

An excerpt:

“We’re introduced to poetry as it relates to the concept of the rhyme at a young age. We all read and loved Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss and to us, that’s what poetry was. Then, when we encounter it later in high school or college, we learn that rhyming is bad and so are clichés. This new poetry is hard to understand, and we still love Shell Silverstein.”

As an instructor of an intro to creative writing course, this question really resonated with me. Every semester, I see the blank stares wash over my students’ faces when I present them with a contemporary poem by the likes of Aase Berg or Sawako Nakayasu. Every semester, when I ask them to bring a poem that they like to class, I’m showered with works like “Casey at the Bat,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” and every now and then a piece by Poe, Plath, Whitman, or Cummings. There’s nothing wrong with any of these poems or authors, but there is something problematic about the spread: these poems are all several decades old, and their authors are dead.

I think this generalization points to a shift that has occurred in poetry. It seems that at some point, poetry went underground. It went quietly and without a going away party. It forgot to send Christmas cards. So, it stands to reason that when poetry showed up again at its high school reunion twenty years later, no one recognized it anymore. Poetry spoke a different language, and no one at the reunion knew how to converse with it beyond the small talk anymore. But that’s not to say that poetry didn’t have friends because it did. It had underground friends that understood poetry and spoke its new, underground language.


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