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
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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