Granted that the industrial/material nature of development created great changes in all the arts: how they were perceived, delivered, appreciated. But music is an ever-popular endeavor, and dancing is still a communal activity. Literature, the novel and short story collections, is available everywhere. What about poetry?
Poetry has lost much of its populist and popular appeal. Ask a butcher, a roofer, a long distance trucker about poetry and few will light up, glad you asked. There is no sense of what they can identify as poetry in their lives except perhaps the rhymes found in greeting cards. And these, too, are being replaced by jokes and other forms of word play.
Only a minimal effort has been made to counter this. Without patrons willing to support an art so invisible as poetry, it has been left to government to represent the society’s support. So poets decide what funding crumbs go to poets. A poet laureate institutes programs for poets. The whole structure of being a poet continues to feed upon itself.
What can be done? Take poetry back to the streets, to everyday living where it belongs. For those who want to discontinue public prayers to open a meeting, replace it with a poem. Radio and television presenters, when faced with a minute or so to fill, could read a poem rather than subject us to inane and purposeless conversation. Poets could join other buskers and read random poems on street corners for tips. The list of possibilities is endlessLet’s have a poetry contest for policemen on the theme of uniforms. Urge all grocers to write imaginatively about fresh vegetables. Ask cabbies to wax poetic about the foibles of human nature. We need real people to write and dispense poetry. Poets talking to poets about poetry and letting others listen in if they want to make the effort isn’t working.
There is a program known as “Random Acts of Poetry” that is a start for what I advocate, but rather than confine it to one week in October this kind of activity should be going on all the time. Let poets bring the beauty of language to the streets and workplaces, to meeting halls and supermarkets. A poem can contain so much joy and experience. It needs to be shared.