I’ve heard for years that poetry is dead – or on life supports. This morning I went looking for it and came to the conclusion that it’s not dead so much as hiding – or misplaced. I tried Amazon – nothing but anthologies of “best” contemporary American poems – none of which were particularly contemporary. I tried several search engines looking for online poetry magazines, figuring that would be a good way to explore a few new poets. Then if they were sufficiently interesting to me I could buy their works for my kindle and read them over and over. I did find a few poets I wanted to read but one or two poems published online was as far as I got. No collections. At least none available through Amazon – and brick and mortar bookshops are thin on the ground in my ‘hood.
Where does one even go to find poetry these days? I used to know. I used to go to poetry readings at the university where I had the opportunity of exploring the length and breadth of the current poetry scene. Published poets usually had a few volumes available for purchase tucked in their backpacks. I was pleased to support local poets.
Back then in the dawn of time small book stores selling poetry dotted the landscape – not just collections of 19th century verse but works of living, breathing, working poets I could relate to and enjoy. I have a shelf jammed with pretty poetry books – all over thirty years old, their spines brittle and faded. It’s a time capsule of sorts. Some of the volumes are collections of poetry by my former university professors. Many of the poets represented on the shelf are now dead. Many went on to other pursuits, leaving poetry behind in the ashes of their youth. I’m confident that some of the poets represented are still writing – but publishing is another matter entirely.
Some of the volumes are works of art in and off themselves – handmade papers sewn together with fine linen twine – printed individually in limited editions using ancient letterpress machines. I bought them from their writers or publishers and often their first pages are graced with complimentary inscriptions. My poetry books are forever enshrined on my shelf because there is no way I could ever toss them out. It would be a kind of murder.
But where do I go to explore new poetry? Not a clue. A few years ago “poetry slams” came into vogue – a sort of competitive poetry reading marathon. I went to a few. They were loud and ugly. More like a hip-hop rap throw-down than anything I recognized as poetry. Does it mean I have finally reached old age that I’m bored to tears by a constant string of lines punctuated by f-bombs clearly intended to convey rebellion and sophistication? Yeah, maybe.
Poetry is hiding somewhere – I just know it is. If it were dead I believe I would know – unless like an amputated limb the severed nerves are sending me ghosts. But poetry can’t be dead as long as I am still writing it- right?