Poetry: Who Needs It?

poetic-worldWE live in the age of grace and the age of futility, the age of speed and the age of dullness. The way we live now is not poetic. We live prose, we breathe prose, and we drink, alas, prose. There is prose that does us no great harm, and that may even, in small doses, prove medicinal, the way snake oil cured everything by curing nothing. But to live continually in the natter of ill-written and ill-spoken prose is to become deaf to what language can do.

The dirty secret of poetry is that it is loved by some, loathed by many, and bought by almost no one. (Is this the silent majority? Well, once the “silent majority” meant the dead.) We now have a poetry month, and a poet laureate — the latest, Charles Wright, announced just last week — and poetry plastered in buses and subway cars like advertising placards. If the subway line won’t run it, the poet can always tweet it, so long as it’s only 20 words or so. We have all these ways of throwing poetry at the crowd, but the crowd is not composed of people who particularly want to read poetry — or who, having read a little poetry, are likely to buy the latest edition of “Paradise Lost.”

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