I Have Seen the Future, And It's Not Half Bad. (An open letter to poets)

Whazup y’all,

Israeli Postage Stamp: The Prophet Jonah-catalog #301, c. 1963 part of the Festivals 5724 (1963) series. Design by Jean David/Photo by Karen HortonIf you’ve been reading this blog at all regularly, you’ve probably picked up on a certain pessimistic tone regarding the current state and future of poetry. This is nothing new; Eliot and Pound were banging the same drum in the early years of last century.

It seems the sky is always falling on someone, and Chicken Littles like myself are always cornering innocents at parties and launching into John-the-Apostle-style warnings of imminent doom—if nothing else, I figure a little apocalyptic raving gets the juices flowing and keeps the pipes free of clogs.

Maybe because the slant of the afternoon light tells me fall is crouching out there behind the billboards and diesel fumes, I’m feeling--if not optimistic, then somewhat less biblical. Lately I’vePhoto: TYPEWRITER Remington Antique Crop By C. Gilliam been thinking there’s no reason why poetry can’t finally crawl out from between the geologic layers of printed pages and make the leap to Youtube and iPods and Twitter. If it’s really true that the average American attention span is now byte-size, then a sonnet should be more appealing than a novel. There is no good reason poetry shouldn’t come together with imaginative visuals on youtube; likewise, it's time to finally shuck off the cheesy, beatniks-with-bongos noodling and really mesh with music in order to slip into rotation on mp3 players. I mean, why can’t we tweet in iambic pentameter?

These things are happening. Our potential audience has access to more poetry than ever before. But for poetry to break the surface of the cultural consciousness it needs to reach what Malcolm Gladwell calls the tipping point. To do that, we poets need to eighty-six our contrarian, neo-luddite attitude toward technology and renounce our long-cultivated snobbery. If poetry is to become relevant, then poets need to stop making it irrelevant as a tactic of exclusion. And in the name of all that’s holy, stop with the smirking, post-doctoral irony. Wink-wink-nudge-nudge allusions to Derrida and Husserl stuck in an elevator are not funny; they are annoying. Past a certain point, you can’t continue to blame readers for not “getting it.” I’m not saying we need to dumb down poetry; I’m saying we need to rethink our delivery systems and examine our motives for writing it.

Hugs and kisses -dc

PS: Harris County Public Library provides access to a range of verse in a variety of formats.

MasterFILE Premier is a magazine index you can access with your HCPL library card from any internet-capable computer. Among oodles of other amazing stuff you can find full text files of the top-tier literary journals below.
American Poetry Review, Full Text: January 1994 – Present
Poetry Magazine, Full Text: January 1998 – Present
Ploughshares, Full Text: March 1990 – Present
Kenyon Review, Full Text: January 1984 – Present
Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Full Text: November 1991 – Present
Digital Media Catalog
download poetry to mp3 players, PCs and Macs, 24/7.
Compact Discs
A variety of verse for adults and children
There are a lot of free, poetry-related podcasts available on the web. Below are several that I like.
Poetry Foundation Podcasts
Pennsound Podcasts

As always, your comments, suggestions for future posts and apocalyptic ravings are greatly appreciated.

Photo Credit: Israeli Postage Stamp: the Prophet Jonah / Design: Jean David by Karen Horton
Photo Credit: TYPEWRITER Remington Antique Crop By C. Gilliam