|Vignette by Clive Hicks-Jenkins|
My suggestion here is that the ubiquity of the lyric poem today, to the exclusion of other modes of poetry, is another sign of poverty in the art form. The limits of the poetry of any age come not from things the poets perceived but were unable to attain (that would be failures of craft), but rather from the things they never thought to include or never thought of value to their art. It's not just the poets; this is how one age differs from the next. In the eyes of those who succeed it, an age of poetry comes to be defined at least in part by what it was not. You cannot know an era—say, Kafka's Europe—until half a century later, when it no longer exists, when you can see what it was not, and what came out of it and displaced it. -John Barr, "American Poetry in the New Century"In fact, I have worked a great deal outside of the confines of the lyric. Because I also came to write novels, I gained an interest in using narrative voice, character, story, and plot in poems, particularly in recent work: the title sequence of The Throne of Psyche; the epic adventure Thaliad; and the long sequence of lyrics, narratives, and monologues focused on characters and transformation, The Book of the Red King (not yet published.)
But the question of how to return audience to poetry is still puzzling to me. One can write an adventurous narrative with distinct characters and events that are charged with life and meaning, and still not find more than a relatively small though engaged audience. John Barr writes,
No one knows if poetry has a golden age ahead of it any time soon, but it's hard to imagine one without an audience. If you look at drama in Shakespeare's day, or the novel in the last century, or the movie today, it suggests that an art enters its golden age when it is addressed to and energized by the general audiences of its time. In a golden age of poetry the audience will not be just the workshop, where poets write for other poets, or the classroom—both of which have provided crucial sanctuary to poetry during the past half century. Its audience will lie also in that world of non-poetry readers who come to discover its deep sustenance. "To have great poets, there must be great audiences too," Whitman said, and then he wrote for them.Caring for culture, then, demands an audience's growth and involvement with the arts. I entirely agree that being "energized" by audience is key to a golden age. If we had no Shakespeare, his time would still have been an aureate era. And I also agree that an epoch in which poets only write for other poets is a sadly reduced one.
I am grateful to the internet for providing writers who live in obscure places a community, with other writers and a place to talk to readers--things I have found on twitter and facebook and elsewhere. People I met online have done lovely things for my books, making videos, collaborating in multi-media projects involving images and music, and more.
Still, there is much that I don't grasp in this matter of the diminished audience for poetry after Modernism. When an audience dies away, can it return like resurrected spring?
|Back-of-The Foliate Head image,|
also by Clive Hicks-Jenkins