By now you’ve seen the crows circling. The sun sparks off their beaks, looking for bones to bleach. The eyes are ripe, spiced with everything the body has seen. “Poetry is dead,” the birds caw, hoping we’ll believe it. The throat is the most delicious part.
“Poetry Died 100 Years Ago This Month,” an op-ed in the NYTimes by Matthew Walther, is only the latest rattle from the hoarse voices of the ghosts of the ivory tower. Who can forget such classics as Alexandra Petri’s 2013 Washington Post lament, “Is Poetry Dead?” or “Poetry is Dead. Does Anybody Really Care?” by “Newsweek Staff” in 2003? Ah yes, that old song, the graveyard dirge of academia: The poetry we know and identify with is dead, and the poetry that lives is not poetry to us at all.
Now we could pick his argument apart – how there may not be a poem written this very minute that will have a centenary celebration in a hundred years but “Howl” sure as hell will, how Rupi Kaur put poetry back on the NYTimes bestseller list for 3 years running, or how we no longer parrot such classical images as dead bodies falling like leaves that have come down from Homer through Virgil to Dante and Milton because we’ve heard that shit already, not because we are so divorced from Nature that we are “incapable” of writing about it. Do you want to introduce him to Mary Oliver, or should I?
But that’s boring. You’re all poets, you already know he’s wrong. Instead, let’s do what poets do and play his game. We are the Talking Dead after all, the communal voice of an unnamed era, the Post-post-postmodernists. If “The Wasteland” marked the death knell for whatever poetry was up to that point, contemporary poetry is the phoenix that rose in its place. We are not repeating T. S. Elliot’s disillusionment with modern life when we include “the detritus of consumer civilization” in our poetry, rather we are celebrating all the new shapes we have never been able to take, everything we can become now that the old rules are dead.
Walt Whitman killed off rhyme, e. e. cummings killed off the word, and William Carlos Williams killed the Academy. Elliot eulogized a world that was dead and gone because that was his world, one characterized by dense language, obscure allusions, and casual showboating in Greek and Latin. It’s no surprise that while the new American poetry was making its voice known, Elliot and Pound expatriated to Europe, back to the land of their high-falutin literary forbears. If only they’d hung around long enough to read Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones.” “This place could be beautiful,/ right? You could make this place beautiful.” Even Pound, in a perhaps apocryphal story, apologized on his deathbed to Allen Ginsberg personally for ruining modern poetry. Don’t worry Ezra, we’ve got it covered.
Walther wants to Make Poetry Great Again. He is nostalgic for a simpler time, when everyone on Earth was a millionaire, and we all went to Harvard. Remember that? Man, those were the days. Poetry was universally impossible, but we were all great at it, because we spoke 17 languages and knew every ancient mythology by heart. I’m sorry our modern myths are so emotionally bereft. Who could possibly cry watching Aunt May die, or seeing Andrew Garfield redeem himself saving Mary Jane? Surely just as cinema is dead, so must poetry be dead too. I guess Bryan Dietrich’s collection “Krypton Nights” didn’t win the Paris Review prize in 2001 with a book of poems entirely about Superman. I must be thinking of Hercules.
Here we are, the vampire zombie phoenixes of poetry, carting our corpses around, telling your fortune by casting our own bones. But what are these odd flowers blooming from the rot? What glistening petals color our sloughing flesh? Who the heck are Matthias Svalina and Claudia Rankine? Who are Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, and Ted Berrigan? Who is Amiri Baraka? “Who? Who? Who?” And while we’re at it, who is this Jonathan Montgomery character who hosts this very website, daring to assert the existence of a vibrant, active, and experimental poetry scene right here in Boulder, Colorado?
Sounds like a bunch of made up names and people up to no good if you ask me. The crown has fallen, bury it. Let the crows come. They’re in for a shock when they bite down. 10 million volts of poetry flowing through their wings.
I’ll see you at the centenary celebration of “The Descent of Alette” in 2096.
Poetry is dead. Long live poetry.
Eric Raanan Fischman, MFA graduate from the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University, and author of “Mordy Gets Enlightened,” has been a longtime contributor to Boulder Poetry Scene.