The Lack of Poetry

National Poetry Day logoIn case you missed it, yesterday, October 5, was National Poetry Day in the UK. I”ve been poking around at the various bits of news and note that came out of the day with interest, and find it both amusing and surprising. Perhaps it”s because I”ve been immersed in poetry and its world for most of my life, but when people speak of the “lack of poetry” in everyday life, I find myself scratching my head in puzzlement. I don”t see a lack of it – in fact, there”s an abundance of poetry all around us all the time, and the last dozen years have only brought poetry MORE into the public eye. National Poetry Day in the UK, National Poetry Month in the US, a Poetry Festival awarded an international honor just last week, the National Poetry Slams in the US attracting as many competitors as some major individual sporting events… and that”s just the tip of the iceberg.

I will grant that I live in one of the richer areas for poetry in the U.S. – the little northeast triangle between Boston, Providence and Worcester, Massachusetts – but even granting that, how can poetry be dying when any day of any week, I have at least one venue presenting poetry within easy driving distance? When I can add any one of half dozen “Poem a Day” subscription services to download or email poetry to me every single day of the year? When municipalities are spending money to put poems on the walls of their mass transit systems so that people can be exposed to it? When poets are _complaining_ that poetry is being commercialized by being featured on television programs and in television advertisments?

In the UK, there are grants available to hospitals to bring poets in to work with patients and staff. In the US, poetry is being acknowledged as a healing force at such nationally known institutions as Harvard Medical School and UCLA. Even the web site for the UK”s National Poetry Day declares:

And yet, the BBC mourned yesterday,

And yet…

…my chldren – regular, everyday American teens – read poetry, both their own and that of others. When their friends find out that I write poetry and write about poetry, they bring me their journals and ask me to read the poetry that they write. All over the country, venues that host adult poetry readings are hosting youth poetry slams and poetry readings – and most have high attendance. Spoken word, written word, slam, performance, journals, subway walls, Def Poetry Jam – they”re finding their way to poetry in enormous numbers. My own favorite voices in the world of poetry – both writing it and writing about it – sell cars, practice law, write for newspapers, raise children, work as computer programmers – and this is no different than it ever was. In every generation, its poets have held down other jobs to make their living – while they lived their lives in poetry. In every generation, their have been voices decrying the lack of poetry, the death of the literate world and the coming of the Visigoths. I agree wholeheartedly with John Burnside, chair of the committee that awards the prestigious Forward Poetry Prize, when he says,

I believe that we are at the beginning of a period of remembering it. And I celebrate that fact every day.

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