Spread the Word

While it seems, as Dana Gioia predicted (read previous blog entry), that performance has become the new lifeblood of poetry, not everyone is so pleased by this prospect. Least of all, people that were enamored with the secret society of the academy and who wanted poetry to stay there, for its authentic place to be seen as being there. The simple proposition that yea-and-nay sayers can agree on is that the two different worlds of poetry are worlds apart. The belief among many defenders of the old guard seems to be that performance is not really poetry, but something of a bastard step child, an unwanted guest at the table. Who can deny that this new poetry is inferior in technique and high theory? Though that’s far from what matters about the new poetic form, it’s a sticking point for many like David Groff, whose picture looks as distempered as his essay.

The thrust of Groff’s essay is the assertion that the enjoyment of performance is not a literary pleasure, is more primal and less intellectual, and this lowering of the bar damages the art form. Towards the end of this essay, Groff seems to suggest that what really matters is book sales, when he says:

Gathering warm bodies for a public reading doesn’t automatically translate into more people heading to a bookstore or poring over poems on their own time. And of course, if a poem is ill-presented—as so many so often are, since a majority of poets either act as if they’re encountering their own poems for the first time, or else histrionically wring every atom of significance from them—potential book-buyers can be driven away from poems that work wonderfully on the page.

This argument, if I’m understanding it correctly, is in bad faith. Since when is sales the measure of success? Maybe it is for a professional poet like Groff, but for the general public, what matters is the dissemination of the word, and access to it. At this, the new poetic has been wildly successful, as can be seen here:



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