As the world seems to be gradually turning into a technological dystopia similar to that seen in Huxley’s The best of worlds, and the words themselves appear to have been replaced by pixels as the basic unit of human understanding, reading, writing and appreciating poetry seems to be a relic of a bygone world. Like playing the harp, writing with a quill, or simply using a cell phone with a keyboard, poetry, it seems, has become a statue reminding us of what once was. by Simon Armitage floral tribute, written to commemorate the death of Queen Elizabeth II, served as a stark reminder to many that the verse widely enjoyed by audiences these days only takes the form of occasional, published poetry, such as the horse and carriage carrying the coffin. of the Queen or military funeral parades through Westminster, to maintain tradition rather than as part of daily cultural practice. Ofqual’s scrapping of poetry as a compulsory module for GCSE students across the country in 2022 appears to underline how distant those in power feel it has become from the lives of those shaping our future. However, in a modern world where “poetry is dead” has become a familiar online phenomenon, verses remain essential to understanding and commenting on society through human nature. As John Keats suggests “The poetry of the earth is never dead”; poetry is the voice that speaks in each of us, the translator of human emotions, of words which, in all their complexity, give meaning to the world. While it may be changing as a literary medium, evolving alongside the changing world, it will never be dead. It is at the heart of the human condition.
Poetry is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a verse composition or arrangement of comparable patterned language in which the expression of feelings and ideas is heightened by the use of style and rhythm distinctive”. Put simply, poetry is language deliberately phrased in a particular way to achieve a particular effect. Language, as the mechanism by which we communicate, is inherently functional, with each utterance uniquely arranged or composed to achieve a particular purpose, emphasize a certain feeling, or convey an idea. Asking a friend “Can I use your pencil please?” demonstrates the use of plain language deliberately arranged as a polite question, composed with the modal verb “May” at the beginning to emphasize that it is a request and effectively assuage the need for a pencil without appearing rude . Commenting on ‘The stars are super beautiful today’ at a dinner party shows an arrangement of adjectives constructed to reflect zeal to be on this date, with ‘today’ emphasizing the here and now . The simple act of muttering “Shit” under your breath without a particular audience is compound language to produce some sort of outlet for frustration.
The fact is, everything a human says is a deliberate arrangement of language with a distinctive pattern and a definite purpose. Poetry therefore forms the very basis of human speech; he is alive in everything we say.
The world operates on deliberate arrangements of language, and as we have already established, deliberate arrangements of language are poetic. Take Liz Truss’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month — generally monosyllabic, direct sentences with compound iambic rhythm for assertive effect. Use of anaphors, triplets, anadiploses and long pauses to create intensity and emphasis. The idea that the United Nations is a metaphorical ‘beacon of promise’ and that the Queen is the metaphorical ‘rock’ on which modern Britain was built highlight the use of figuration. Take, for example, Amazon’s “This Is A Man’s World” ad celebrating its all-female delivery stations in India. The use of the paradox of ‘pioneer’ and ‘mommy’ lends intensity to the subversion of the typical oppression of Third World women as domestic and secondary figures, with the fragmentary phrase ‘And mommy’. only adds to the connotation of power. Even the Call Of Duty franchise, which many might suggest is the death of poetry, or literature as a whole, is based on deliberate arrangements of language. The idea that ‘Vengeance is like a ghost… It takes hold of every man it touches… Its thirst cannot be quenched… Until the last man standing has fallen.’ maintains a clear poetic construction, with a simile, the personification of revenge, and the staccato rhythm with large pauses demonstrating a deliberate attempt to maintain a suspenseful and chilling tone. The plosive, hard-hitting beats of “Death is no disgrace” and “You’re gettin’ shot up” still show how, even in video games, poetry, if defined as a conscious composition of language, is still present. Computer-mediated communication may even have allowed the emergence of more distinctive language styles and facilitated the development of new possibilities and patterns. While coin acronyms like “lol”, “lmao”, “ttyl”, “wuut”, and “ily” seem to many to be the furthest thing possible from Wordsworth and Blake, these constructions are compositions of language with style. unique and particular arrangement, designed for effective communication on online platforms. If the haiku, three short sentences, is considered poetic because of its consistent syllable pattern, then the consistent acronym pattern must also be poetry. What separates Bashō’s haiku “The Old Pond”, which reads “A silent old pond / A frog jumps into the pond / Splash! Silence again” and the 2022 Instagram caption of the influencer Molly-Mae Hague “Not all storms come to disrupt your life…some come to pave the way for you” in poetic and non-poetic spheres? A very dogmatic, pretentious and ultimately outdated idea of what literature is, if you ask me.
If it is true, as Robert Graves suggests, that “to be a poet is a condition, not a profession”, and that poetry is in everything we say, everything we see and is all around us in the modern world, it is perhaps the traditional idea of a poem – words arranged in separate lines, lines arranged in stanzas, often ending in rhyme and found in books – that are thought of in train to die. While it’s undeniable that in the 21st century people are unlikely to pick up a book of poetry and read it, since when has this ever been common public practice? If poetry is dead in the modern world, then it’s been dead for centuries. One would have to go back to the Romantics to see poetry used even quite extensively as an emotional outlet. Even still, it was only for the nobles; the likes of Lord Byron and Coleridge were born into prestige. You would have to go even further back to medieval times to see ordinary people performing and sharing poetry as a typical recreation. It is even defensible to say that poetry today is more accessible to everyone, and therefore more alive, than it has ever been. The rise of Instagram poetry is just one example of how technology and social media have facilitated the spread of traditional verse and given it more life than it ever had. @poets is an Instagram account with 4.2 million followers and has posted nearly 10,000 poems, many of which are photos of books or collections, and many followers encourage purchases of said books or collections. Therefore, Instagram not only provides an accessible platform for the public to read poetry, but also encourages the enjoyment of poetry in a conventional form that many consider dead. Facebook also acts as a platform for the reception of poetry, with the “Poetry Lovers” group celebrating poems written by the greats of the past and the average living person, with 2 million followers. Moreover, rap music, which is undeniably an integral part of global culture in 2022, and music in general for that matter, is poetry. Lines of rhyming words in verses commenting on particular societal issues – the definition of both poetry and music. Dave’s “Black” is a rhyming verse denouncing racism and promoting the Black Lives Matter movement. “London, 1802” by Wordsworth is a rhyming couplet that denounces the selfishness and withdrawal of the inhabitants of London.
What is the difference, if not the same elitist look at literature that would separate poetry and Instagram captions?
It seems to me that even though people don’t read poetry in the modern world, there has been a huge revival of slam poetry and spoken word events. It is perhaps even linked to the medieval culture of reading and sharing poetry orally, suggesting that verse returns to its roots and to a time when it was most alive within the common culture. Spoken word artist Kae Tempest’s 2017 performance at Glastonbury, in which she used poetry to attack Theresa May and the Tory government by telling the public to be ‘strong and steady unto doom’, highlights highlight the use of poetry as a means of social commentary. Criticize that “school children are looking for lunch” and that the government is “privatizing and privatizing [and] in private, let the nurses burn,” Tempest shows that the power of poetry is alive and well, with Glastonbury’s stereotypical young audience rejoicing in its verses. Musical poet and spoken word artist George The Poet’s ‘Black Yellow Red’ similarly offers a critical commentary on police brutality, civilian deaths, military involvement and the lack of peaceful transfer of power since colonization in his home country, Uganda, and represents the collective discontent of Ugandan people. Although it can be argued that this is not poetry in its traditional form and that classical poetry is dead, there has been an upsurge in modern translations of classics in recent times. Emily Wilson’s translations of Odyssey and I lead demonstrate a growing need for accessibility to this genre of traditional poetry in the modern world, and that its importance is expanding rather than dying.
Poetry has changed dramatically. there is no doubt. Like its evolution from oral to written, from inscriptions on trees and walls to paper, then to print following the emergence of the printing press, it developed, alongside societal evolution, to be received by the technological medium. This is not a sign that he is dead but rather a sign that he is alive. The fact that he changes over time to adapt to human nature is proof of his intensity within civilization and that he will never die. It is at the heart of the human condition.
Description of the image: allegory of poetry, an angel holding a book
Image Credit: “Allegoria della Poesia, definitely Numin Aflaturovvero “è spirata da Dio“” by Raphael is licensed under CC BY 3.0