Saturday, 2 February 2013

Poetry Is Dead

Once one of Britain's most treasured artforms, poetry has long been in decline.  There had been hopes that the spoken word movement would save it, but it's failed, as David Bryant reports.

Poetry is dying.  Actually, scratch that, it's dead.  You didn't need me to tell you that.  When you attended your last dinner party, did anyone bring the topic of poetry up?  Was anyone as keen on talking about poetry as they were, for example, talking about the guilty pleasure to be derived from watching Celebrity Big Brother?  In a very real sense, mass media has taken over the role of poetry in our lives - why trouble yourself to read a slimline volume of someone's profound thoughts when Eminem can do that with beats included?

A few minutes ago, there were hopes that the performance poetry (or "spoken word") scene could revive the ailing artform, but the movement remains trapped in its own ghetto, unable to rise up from the dingy backstreet pubs it seems to have made its unflattering permanent home.  Most crucially, the hip young things littering the circuit have proved over time that far from being lovers of the form, they are really all mouth and trousers, beating their fists close to their hearts to denote passion and integrity whilst uttering only hollow, cliched sentiments.

I had the misfortune to attend a poetry night called "For Better or Verse" last week, and the contents of the poetry were almost as dreary and cliched as the unfortunate title the evening gave itself.    A failed comedian strolled on stage with a cheeky grin and shared his appalling prose about the times he had been embarrassed whilst in the supermarket with his girlfriend - tired, old-hat observational comedy without the comedy, then.  A few laughs were forced out of the mouths of a weary looking audience, but not many.  One had to wonder if the embarrassment of his live failure would create some comedy meta-poems, but he seemed to lack the awareness to realise he'd died on stage.  A raggedy-looking, wannabe-edgy girl called Mary Gold delivered tired polemic about life in Coalition Britain, the sort of tedious ranting you can easily hear at a Socialist Workers Party meet. Seamus Heaney can sleep soundly while this woman remains his biggest threat.  Then the audience - all thirty of them - cheered over-enthusiatically, but only because they seemed to be encouraged by the MC to do so on pain of death.  "C'MOOONNNNN!" he roared as if a stadium full of people stood before him. The problem is, to him it probably did seem like that.

It saddens me to see poetry this poor being held up as the art form's saviour, but we live in a land of ignorance where scholarly thought is frowned upon as being "elitist", and youths have no desire to gently sip at the summer drinking fountain of poetical thought. An MTV generation has birthed another post-MTV generation, and they are getting the art they deserve.  The trouble is, so are we.

(This is a response to the thought piece "Poetry Is Alive" which my editors also paid me to write about an hour ago.)

(For an explanation of what all this is actually about, see my updates section above).

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