Poetry is a sustaining activity.
Poetry is a need of those who have little, thus it is given no place in a society of excess.
That society of excess, which some said would lead to greater learning, more refined consciousness, or really just everyone listening to Mozart and reading Hegel, has managed to take over and destroy almost everything capable of being subsumed...including, or especially, as the first casualty, most art.
Because poetry is not easily palatable it has been left to die. Because it cannot be made into a mass commodity, despite efforts of the literary establishment, university writing programs, and above all the poets of that establishment, it remains something viable, something capable of sustaining memory, history, shreds of reality, humanity, resilience, rebellion and love.
Profit and corporation has poisoned everything but it has not yet poisoned poetry. This is missed by those who write about poetry, always from the establishment of poetry. That establishment, which claims its own absurd self-importance, is completely ignored by those in power, by corporations, by those who distribute art. The only rebellious poetry allowed is approved rebellious poetry. That establishment, and every poet who is a part of it, is worthless and worthy of ridicule no matter how good the poetry is. I’m thinking right now of Billy Collins. I’m thinking less of Seamus Heaney. I’m thinking not at all of Bolano, Bukowski, or Rimbaud, no matter how precious they become now, dead and unable to defend themselves.
Poetry, like love, does not have a direct answer to systems. It is sustaining resilience. It preserves what would be killed off: like impossibility, like the unreal, like love other than seen in the movies, like kindness, like courage of a kind not exploited for wars. It corrodes those systems, like water, slowly and consistently, like winter freezing and unfreezing the pavement into numerous deadly potholes. It refuses to go away. It gnaws at systems. It is always opposed. That is the work of poetry. To simultaneously preserve and oppose. That is why poetry has no ideology, no “politics”, even while it must always be profoundly political.
That is the work of poetry, to simultaneously preserve and oppose.
I think you all know this, but you have become very lazy and very comfortable.
The only way anything is written is to refrain from thinking at all about who will read it. Cave paintings, errant footprints, William Blake.
Everyone is not about to start reading poetry. I don’t imagine the Greeks sitting around reading Homer. Of course not, they didn’t read. I can imagine them listening to Homer, maybe once in their lives, another traveling man with the misfortune to be blind, telling tales to get safe passage to the next island. I can imagine them sitting around at night, retelling variations on those stories. Even that is being too optimistic. Mostly I imagine the Greeks getting drunk when life was too heavy and working hard to survive the rest of the time. I imagine them as distracted as we are with their spare time. Or impossibly bored, which amounts to the same thing. Society is not about to better itself. Everyone isn’t about to read Homer when they have a Playstation. No one read the Irish monks who kept the ideas of those Greeks alive through the dark times until all the monks were long dead and only their illuminated manuscripts survived.
Poetry, calcified and self-satisfied like all other culture in this society, is as unprepared as everything else for the situation to change utterly.
Poetry, because it is a basic urge, not merely an art, can survive the change of everything. The only thing that ceases poetry is constant distraction, since poetry is born out of memory, longing and boredom. That distraction is what cannot, no matter what they say, last.