Re: Modern Poetry



I would post this in the Poetic Asides forum. . . if anyone ever went there. 😉

I was browsing through some Poetry magazine issues on-line, wondering if I’m the only one who just “doesn’t get it.” I’ve been reading and enjoying poetry in all its forms for more than forty years, and yet I’ve read entire issues of this magazine (and others) without a single poem grabbing me–or even, in many cases, making any sense whatsoever.

There was a letter to the editor in the January ’09 issue from a poetry group in a retirement community who meets every week to discuss poetry. I’ll insert a bit of what they had to say:

“We have studied individual poets and their works, processed every word of An Introduction to Poetry, worked our way through The Best Poems of the English Language, and read Garrison Keillor’s collections. So naturally I felt that a subscription to Poetry would provide the group with some stimulating discussion.

As it turns out, we cannot make head or tail out of your selected “poems.” We agree that there is no rhyme and very little reason—only phrases, snatches of words or thoughts in random order, with very little cohesion. The poems are neither enjoyable nor enlightening.

We. . .are dismayed to think that this magazine represents the best of modern poetry.”

Before you blame it on their age, there were letters in response to this that showed a chord had been struck in others as well–in fact, I believe the editors arranged for a podcast so that the issue could be discussed.

I’ve never been a proponent of the belief that every poem has to make sense to every person–or that it’s necessary to know what the poet intended in order to enjoy it. But I do believe that it has to mean something to the reader, even if it means something different to each one. Some of these poems are, quite literally, word salad. There’s an arrogance about them that says, “If you don’t understand this, then your education or intelligence must be lacking.” Some mentioned in their letters the disdain they experienced when presenting more conventional poems to the public–they weren’t considered “true poets.” I know trends change, and that’s a good thing for writers, but this is a trend I hope changes sooner rather than later.

How do you feel about modern poetry?

P.S. I don’t mean to paint all modern poetry with the same brush—some of it is quite good. I’m speaking of work that seems to be obscure simply for obscurity’s sake.