The Threat to Poetry

This article from Mark William Jackson appears on

My recent post, the poem Only Poets Read Poetry generated a great discussion, not so much the poem as the title. I was hoping to further the discussion as we covered to a depth of degree what could be interpreted by the line ‘only poets read poetry’ but barely touched on what could be done to steer the interpretation towards the positive.
I had two meanings in mind when I wrote the line, it could mean that poetry readership is very limited, to the point where only people who write poetry themselves are interested in reading poetry. The positive interpretation I had was that anyone who reads a poem, puts their mind into the mind of a poet and therefore becomes a poet.
Through the discussion Graham Nunn made the statement that ‘the reading of poetry is as much an art as the writing of it.’ A valid point supporting the positive interpretations, but does this lead to a reduction in readership due to the difficulty in comprehension. Poetry is well regarded as the most obscure of the literary arts, is this obscurity necessary? What purpose does it serve? I don’t think poetry should be as obvious as a Stephenie Meyer novel (I have not, nor do I plan to read one of these, this comment is a reflection on her readership(!)), but do we need to get to a point where, like W.H. Auden who awarded John Ashbery’s Some Trees (1956) the Yale Young Poets Award then later confessed that he didn’t understand a word of it. Are poets scared to reveal too much, or scared of becoming popular?
Graham’s comment led Stu Hatton to add another interpretation to the line, as in ‘only the elect can read poetry’. There is an art in reading poetry, only certain people have the skills to be able to read poetry, is this obscurity deliberately used by poets to reduce readership and maintain an elitist stance?
An alternate definition of obscurity was raised by Danielle Cross who chose the take that ‘good poetry is hard to come by’. Accessibility to poetry was discussed by Ashley Capes in terms of technology which has granted access to anyone who has the tech savvy to start up a blog, anyone can create a poetry page and call themselves a poet. Is this a good thing? People can now choose to call themselves poets and no longer have to rely on the acceptance of an editor.


Comments are closed.