Tuesday, August 31, 2021


 A couple weeks back, I stumbled in my YouTube wanderings on this excellent little piece about the rise of poetry's popularity in the last few years. This happens every once in a while.  The rest of the world who mostly likes to pretend that poetry doesn't really exist in the present and always in the past (the Beats, the Romantics, E.D., Shakespeare, etc.) suddenly gets a match lit under their asses and notices us.  In this case, that match seems to be the rise of insta poets and the popularity of Amanda Gorman's inuaguration piece, but it's happened before (anyone remember the 90's flick of slam and how even MtV noticed?.)  Poets, of course, have always been here, hammering out poems for very small audiences (mostly of other poets.) We're usually are a little like WTF?  Poetry is cool, but I was here even when it was uncool. Writing the shit out of it when absolutely no one at all was noticing.  One day, I stumbled on a book a student worker in the library was reading on the circ desk, someone who I did not know was interested in poetry at all.   Rupi Kaur. I sat if back down like a bomb that might go off. 

Becuase poetry is a THING now.  And we should be excited, but what I hear more often is complaint. That social media is a poor vehicle.  That the poems are shit.  That the taste for these poems and their purveyors are sort of akin to sugar rushes and frosting--pretty, but with no substance. That they are warping the world's view of what poetry is and who has claim on those distinctions. And indeed, I would ask, as the video does, who DOES?  One of the best parts is the discussion is about how the rise has been been, by and large, among female writers and readers. Especially women of color.  Writers who felt that the traditional/academic doors were open to them, so they made their own on places like instagram and YouTube. As an indie publisher--as someone who has oft self-published for many of the reasons these writers talk about, I am partly "Hell, Yeah!"  I am also partly jealous as any of us would be who toil forever in obscurity.  Though at the same time,  cringe over how bad the poems sometimes are--or maybe not bad--but how some seem more like something you would write on on inspirational chalkboard than a poem. Live Life Love-poetry. 

But I get it. In fact, I've watched many interviews with Kaur, and though she falls into dreaded "poet voice" in her readings, I like her in her more casual interviews--one in which she talked about people telling her to avoid self-publishing lest no one take her seriously.  To which she responded "No one tales me seriously now." And she certainly is a model for business savvy and using social media as a bridge to audiences. I like her and her work much more than when a celebrity writes a shitty book of "poetry" and it's immediately a best seller.  

But it all does bring up some questions.  Why can't their be "popular" poetry.  Why does academia seem to think it holds the bar? Sets the bar?  What does poetry for the people look like?  How much does gender play into it--how women always struggle to justify the things they like because men set the standards? Are certain venues and forms taken less seriously and written off simply for existing in one form and not another?  For appealing to this audience and not that one?

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