Do not forget to remember poetry

I’m concerned about poetry. I have always been concerned about poetry. Poetry was that white muse who held my hand when I was so young, took me to a white land, entrapped me in black words, and we never came back.  I grew up to grow my own manifesto of poetry: a real poem would carry all its needed instruments within itself. A real poem needs neither camera, nor light to be projected in your mind. A real poem creates images, music, shadow, light, pauses, rhythm, pains and joys out of words; nothing but words. They only exception for me seems to be the voice of the poet. I think a poet’s voice is a part of poetry. I have believed in pure poetry.  Am I too old to revise my manifesto? Do I even need to revise it? I still want to think about poetry, as I still want poetry to think about me.

Billy Collins, the former Poet Laureate of the United States , in his amazing Ted Talk Everyday Moments Caught in Time explains why he has decided to present some of his poems in a new visual medium   , with animation, despite his initial resistance, as he always thinks that “poetry can stand by itself.”  I am amazed by discovering a huge harmony between my own view of poetry and Collins’ standpoint. “If you are reading a poem that mentions a caw, you don’t need on the facing page a drawing of the caw”, absolutely true, I say. Now the same Billy Collins announces that he is going to present poetry-animations or animated poems to his audience, that he has been trying to take poetry to public places, “poetry on buses, poetry on subways, on billboards” and let it “happen to you so suddenly that you don’t have time to deploy your anti-poetry deflector shields.” This idea is totally strange to me, to let poetry happen suddenly to the resentful  busy audience of a crowded world. Collins presents his animated poems, and the experience turns to be unbelievably unique. I can explain it as a conceptual visualization of visual concepts or something like that! What he presents is different from the hasty juxtaposition of poems and random pictures that usually make me stop the clip before the end to avoid letting the beauty of a pure poem be ruined by some mediocre visual supplements. Collins introduces the possibility of creating new forms for presenting poetry in digital age. Poetry needs new weapons to take part in digital revolution, and digital revolution needs that call for new weapons to still be revolutionary.

The fourth chapter of Tom Standage’s  Writing on the Wall  indicates that poetry, along with other genres, has also been used as an available social medium, but as a minor participant in an ongoing act of communication. The historical stories of this chapter talk about “the circulations of poetry within court circle” (77) and how poetry was used as a hidden messenger of forbidden desires or “as a way to amuse friends, win the favor of patrons and advance their careers” (82.) Poetry in this chapter is not depicted as an art but as an available means of communication, “self-expression and self-promotion” (69) which existed before and naturally enough continues to exist. Poetry has been taken for granted. This pervasive underestimation of a super-sensitive art makes me remember once more that we should really think about poetry. The question of poetry’s position in the context of our contemporary creative and communicative world is as essential as any other primary concern that we might have today. Poetry is not really a circulating self-expressing method to be generated, replaced or adapted easily. Poetry needs to be helped to survive our new world;and  our new world would need poetry to survive.

7 thoughts on “Do not forget to remember poetry”

  1. Naghmeh,

    In response to your post, I’d like to pose some questions: how do you conceive of poetry and its purpose(s)? Can it survive as a sustained literary or social form if we limit its potential? Or is there a way that we can reconceptualize poetry to become a more social, circulating form of media?

  2. Naghmeh,

    That video clip of the animated poetry was really cool. My sister is getting her MFA in poetry right now, and she and an artist friend just self-published an illustrated book of some of her poems. When I read it, I was struck by how much the meaning of the poems had changed. Initially I sort of balked, because I felt so invested in the original poems, having seen them evolve slowly into something that was really meaningful (to me, anyway). I also wondered whether it didn’t work completely against the mechanisms of poetry, which operates so much in ambiguity and multiple meanings, to try to make them concrete. But in time, the book really grew on me. I still think it changed the meaning, but I no longer see that as a bad thing.

    I wonder if digital media have the power to do something similar for poetry, if we could just open our minds to it. When you think about the human innovations and technologies that were required just to create poetry that could be read by others in the first place– language and writing tools, at the most basic level– maybe a digital environment will afford new genres of art, and new meanings.


  3. I think, when we get down to it, you’re right–poetry is not just a communication medium in the typical fashion, but I’m not sure it’s so fragile that it won’t survive. Poetry does, so goes the stereotypical high school teacher line, try to communicate something nonverbal. It is indeed “not just words”, which is what the Poetry chapter in Standage wants to make it. It is composed of words, but it’s got a special role as highlighting how pretty AND inadequate words are. Digital media might actually help (if we buy my definition of what poetry does), since it can push it beyond print to highlight how even visual/sound texts are inadequate to the stuff being expressed, I take a little comfort in that, since it seems like poetry might do just fine in adapting to circumstances that are, actually, hurting some other forms.

  4. How do you think that spoken word poetry fits into the creative and communicative spectrum of today and the future? Based on the little I know about any sort of poetry, I notice that spoken word and slam poetry often a.) occur within a close-knit community and b.) seem to give voice to marginalized populations- basically, it’s not a very mainstream pursuit. However, it does serve the functions of self-promotion and expression, in that it tends to be very personal, and communication, in that it tells listeners about those issues and ideas.

    YouTube has quite a few videos of spoken word competitions and performances, but given this type of poetry’s niche nature, do you think it can ever really become part of the greater creative circulation?

    1. Chris and Gab,
      My perception of poetry is partially dependent on the historical and cultural background of where I come from. The dominant form of art in my country throughout previous centuries , not really now, was poetry rather than painting, drama, music, etc. Obviously the other creative forms existed but for several reasons they could not play the influential role that poetry was playing in protecting an invaded nation’s language and culture. Still I see the signs of that background in the collective unconsciousness of people. I do not intend to go into historical details. I have many reasons to believe that poetry is the constructor of an essential mode of understanding in human mind which is not , and should not be, replaceable by other fillers. I am thinking about how to create new space for poetry rather than how a new space could replace poetry.

  5. Nagmeh,

    This is a beautifully written piece, and I also enjoyed the clips from both Sexton and Collins.

    In my view, the important question to ask is not: Should poetry be illustrated? so much as How good are the illustrations? Or not Should poetry stand alone? so much as How does the company this poem keeps help me understand and appreciate it better? I think it’s precisely the ways in which poetry is at once an art, and a form of communication, and an expression of self, that lend it vitality.


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