Poetry is more powerful than ever

I love poetry. I hate poets.

That is an overstatement. I understand that most (by which I mean 99.99%) poets are in the process of becoming. It can take a looooooong time to master poetry. A bad poem can be written in moments. A great poem is the accrued experience of a lifetime. It’s best to either develop in private, or present your first thirty years or so of your material with a little modesty. Too many poets fail at either.

But poetry is important. Vitally so. The words of truly great poets – Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes (I feel I’m allowed to love both) William Carlos Williams, T S Elliot, Shakespeare, Kabir – to name a few I like rather a lot, capture ideas that the rest of us plodding models struggle to comprehend even as we live through them.   The cynical space in my mind believes this is why poetry exists in such a degraded form in the modern consumer culture. They don’t want us thinking too much, and great poetry makes you think.

But once again the emerging participatory culture of the internet is changing an aspect of our culture. At any other time in the last century a new American poet laureate would have gone unheard by much of the world. Now Philip Levine can as The Economist puts it ‘express the bitterness and promise of America‘ and the world can judge if they agree, instantly, virally and democratically. I think Levine’s work is rather beautiful, and a voice we need that in other times would have gone unheard.

Poetry may have been sidelined for a century or more, but in today’s culture of status updates and soundbites and the unremitting contest for the attention of billions, I think it is becoming more important and powerful than ever.