The #SavePoetry Campaign, by Aaron Poochigian

Today’s guest post from Aaron Poochigian shares his activity with the #SavePoetry campaign. He says, “People should be encouraged to regard reading and hearing poetry as an aesthetic experience similar to listening to a song.”

Aaron Poochigian earned a PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. His book of translations from Sappho, Stung With Love, was published by Penguin Classics in 2009, and his translation of Apollonius’ Jason and the Argonauts was released October 2014. For his work in translation, he was awarded a 2010-11 Grant by the National Endowment for the Arts.

His first book of poetry, The Cosmic Purr (Able Muse Press), was published in 2012 and, winner of the 2016 Able Muse Poetry Prize, his second book Manhattanite was released in the Fall of 2017. His thriller in verse Mr. Either/Or was released by Etruscan Press in Fall of 2017 as well. His work has appeared in such journals as The Guardian, Poetry, and The Times Literary Supplement.

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The purpose of the #SavePoetry campaign is to treat poetry as an endangered species—endangered because, however many people might be writing it, very, very few read it outside of classroom assignments. To build on the analogy, while I am grateful for the “preserves” of colleges and universities, I want to release poetry “back into the wild” by making it a part of daily life.

As a young Classicist, I was inspired to learn that such great poetry as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and the plays of Sophocles were originally popular entertainment. I want the same for my culture. I imagine an America in which people quote poetry in everyday conversations and where it is just as common to see someone reading poetry on a city bus as listening to music on headphones.

Making More People Comfortable With Poetry

The main way the campaign is working to bring this change about is by making

Aaron Poochigian

more people comfortable with poetry. One part of this burden falls on the poets themselves who, whatever else they may write, should present in public poems that engage, fascinate, even ravish audiences. The other part involves managing reader expectations.

Most people find poetry alienating, as if it were a foreign language to decipher, a code to crack, a riddle to solve. People should be encouraged to regard reading and hearing poetry as an aesthetic experience similar to listening to a song. Everyone, by virtue of being human, is qualified to respond to, enjoy or even criticize it.

As Matthew Zapruder explains, poetry “is our communal language. Poetry is not written for experts and it’s not written for scholars and it doesn’t belong to the priests of literature, it belongs to the people.”

The campaign is also working to bring poetry to a non-academic audience by encouraging the reading of poetry at a variety of occasions (parties, weddings, funerals, etc.) and at off-campus venues. I was excited to read that the Ness Book Festival in Inverness, Scotland hosted a reading of football-themed poetry in a football stadium. Why not poetry at Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl?

Expanding the Audience for Poetry

I wrote my verse novel Mr. Either/Or for many reasons, one of which was the concern with finding a broader audience for poetry. Fun, snappy, accessible narrative verse seemed a good way to do it. The “action” mode was appealing to me for a number of reasons. First, because it is the opposite of most of the poetry that is being written today—it is not static, observational, meditative. Second, the adventures of the hero gave me, I confess, a purely escapist pleasure.

More specifically, I wanted to write poetry that would engage millennials. Because the hero “you” is a 20-something, I had to charge up the book with his slang and idioms—with living language, the language of today and tomorrow, and his way of thinking and speaking brought my whole poetic style up to date. The book embodies one of the central tenets of the #SavePoetry campaign, that poetry can be about anything—anything from shopping at Walgreens, to molemen living in subway tunnels, to alien invaders.

Thus it is that the #SavePoetry campaign is working to take poetry, which has survived in the “refuges” of Academia, and repopulate America with it, so that it becomes an integral part of our daily lives.

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If you’d like to share your voice on any poetry-related topic at Poetic Asides, please send an e-mail to robert.brewer@fwmedia.com with the subject line “Poetic Asides Guest Post” with a brief idea of what you’d like to cover or send along a 300-500 word post on spec. And be sure to include your preferred bio (50-100 words) and head shot. If I like what you send, I’ll include it as a future guest post on the blog.

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3 thoughts on “The #SavePoetry Campaign, by Aaron Poochigian

  1. BDP

    I agree wholeheartedly with this post. A little story: for a decade or so, I’ve participated in a high school, one-day event at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where students from Wisconsin and upper Illinois come and read their poetry, flash poetry, short stories, and plays. Moderators, such as my friend and I, submit the best among the writings to a panel for awards. At the end of the day, students attend an award session in a huge auditorium. When third, second, and first places are called out for each genre (including the above mentioned, plus song-writing and video stories), the students stand and cheer the recipients. It’s like attending a pep rally. Students want to win, of course, but equally important is that they read their work in front of a class-size audience. These small classes go throughout the morning and afternoon until the student writers’ pep rally. The entire day is quite fun, culminating in cheers and slaps on the back.

    Seems to me little steps like these student conferences (huge for the participants, however) are a good way to get poetry to wider audiences. These kids go into the world and proudly proclaim their participation. They probably won’t let Aunt Betty at the dinner table get away with saying poetry is boring or that she doesn’t understand it. Let’s hope they share some good poetry with her.

  2. HoskingPoet

    There’s the #poetblogrevival going on as well. Poets are trying to blog at least once a week for 2018. About a wide range of topics and some share their poetry as well as the process they use to write. It’s been pretty interesting so far.

  3. tripoet

    I absolutely LOVED reading this article. You are a hero to all who truly love poetry. There is a poet in my town who keeps a running tally of the number of poems he has published. Then he criticizes other poets for what he finds inferior in their work. He doesn’t notice when the class gets smaller. Those who stay and support him drink his brand of Kool-Aid and become like him! So reading your essay was just what the doctor ordered for me today; to know that while poetry has a job to do and academic work is super important, that shouldn’t negate the importance of the “common poet” as they need to eat poetic soul food too. It is a disservice whenever our “success” becomes more important to us than our actual mission which is to bring others to Poetry as we would want anyone to care about one of our children or loved ones.
    #SoimpressedwithSAVEPOETRY.

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