American Poems

mary_oliverI read a blog article recently where the writer was decrying the condition of American literature, and in particular, American poetry. The author’s comments indicated that, not only do Americans not have time for poetry, most Americans frankly don’t care about poetry. At first, I was a little irritated that someone would make such a comment. But as I thought back over my years of teaching high school students, I realized that the vast majority of my students did, indeed, not care about poetry. The closest these students would come to poetry was lyrics for rap-style songs. This resulted in, what is now a popular event, the poetry slam. If I were to remove my personal values and look at this popular culture phenomenon, I might be willing to say that there has been a renewed interest in poetry. After putting my values back into place, I think perhaps I might say that there is an interest in strictly contemporary rap music-style lyrics, but to say that there is any interest in classical poetry (even American classical poetry), would be untrue.

Poetry
by KRS-One

In spite of that sad statement, there are still Americans who have a deep and committed concern for poetry. One of my articles from just a few days back mentioned a group of people who are actively writing and sharing poetry for people at art venues or similar events. Their sole purpose is to share their love for poetry. When I mentioned this concept to a writers’ group to which I belong, they were immediately interested in putting together a similar program in their communities. Poetry in America is still very much alive — just not in the way we traditionally might think of it.

If
by E. E. Cummings

So now if I were to select American poets to write an article about, which ones should I select? We have such a wide range of excellent poets: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Henry Longfellow, Henry Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Emerson — but wait. What about the contemporary poets: E.E. Cummings, Jane Hirshfield, Maya Angelou, Robert Bly, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Amira Baraka . . . the list goes on: Mary Oliver, W.S. Merwin, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens. There is no shortage.

Sleeping in the Forest
by Mary Oliver

To the writer who said that Americans have neither time nor interest in poetry, I suggest that you to take a much closer look at the volumes of exquisite poetry that has been penned by some very brilliant writers. American literature may be different than that found in other cultures — the British or French, for instance — but that’s the beauty of literature: it reflects the culture from which it stems. The American cowboy poet has experiences that no English Romantic period poet could ever possibly imagine. That poetry should not be the same. If it is the same, then all of these different experiences of various cultures is meaningless. As much as I personally dislike the contemporary poetry slam-style of writing that is invading our schools, it does, in reality, reflect the culture of the present time. Just because I don’t particularly care for it, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.



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