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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I saw a study from NEA that said that only 8% of Americans read poetry on a regular basis. Also, I rarely see any poetry threads on here and other author boards. And since it hasn't always been this way, I was wondering what is it about today's poetry, or just poetry in general, that changed everything? Why don't people read much poetry anymore? What do you think?
 

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I'm not sure I totally agree that people have given up on poetry completely.  My own anthology Reflections: A Modern Anthology has actually done reasonably well but unfortunately there isn't the same level of appreciation of poetry that there used to be.  It's a shame in a way because poetry is actually an excellent way to help children learn to read - remember Dr. Seuss?  I'm hoping the decline in interest is not permanent and that people will eventually return to this beautiful art form.
 

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In my humble opinion, not having any literary or other degrees, I think many modern poets look down their noses at what used to appeal to
"the masses," such as dramatic poetry that one could recite (for instance "The Highwayman," or Edgar Alan Poe's poem about the Raven,).  The biggest
no-no seems to be rhyming poetry.  Rhyming poetry can be quite beautiful when the poet really struggles to blend meaning, words, and rhyme as exquisitly as possible.  I believe that formerly, most poets tried to communicate their beautiful thoughts to "the masses" instead of writing for themselves or their small clique of intellectuals.  I like both free verse and rhyming poetry, and even silly poetry like Ogden Nash's.
 

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I'd like to add to my previous comment.  In the past I think poetry had emotional content that people could relate to.  Poetry was aimed at the heart as well as to the mind.  Intellectual musings from one person's perceptions, no matter how beautifully presented will not comfort the grief-stricken and lonely, give hope and encouragement to the despondent, or enhance the joy of life's miraculous moments.
 

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What tsilver said  --  and also, on the other side, I think it's also because so little poetry is taught in school now (and hasn't been for a while).  The people I know of my parents' generation can still, decades later, recite a dozen fairly lengthy poems that they learned in school.  (And they can tell you about the significance of the content; it wasn't just rote memorization.)  If the early exposure isn't there, most people won't pick up an appreciation for poetry later as adults.
 

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tsilver said:
In my humble opinion, not having any literary or other degrees, I think many modern poets look down their noses at what used to appeal to
"the masses," such as dramatic poetry that one could recite (for instance "The Highwayman," or Edgar Alan Poe's poem about the Raven,).
I think this is an excellent point. I wish more poets would write these today! People love a good story. If I wasn't so horrible at rhyming, I would try it myself.

There is a weird prevalence out there to see poetry as stuff that only super educated people read. Whenever someone recites poetry on TV, they are shown as well-read and really smart. Maybe we're a bit intimidated by the thought of trying to understand poetry, as normal people. :)

I find that the poetry I connect with now is the kind that is full of emotion. Pablo Neruda and Mary Oliver are my favorites, and I think their use of imagery to convey emotions is astounding. Just my take.
 

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Why don't I like Poetry? For the same reason I don't like shrimp, Okra and Steak.

Actually, I have read some of the old ones. British Authors. Like how the language flows. Don't like the modern stuff.
I don't like pretentious stuff.
 

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I think there are a number of reasons for this. The change really started in the beginning of the twentieth century, with the Modernists. Especially with the World Wars, they came to see the world as a difficult, absurd, and incomprehensible. So, the thinking was, why shouldn't their poetry reflect that? Poems stopped being written for a general audience, and so the general audience stopped listening. Contemporary poets have inherited this perception.

First of all, though, poetry is inherently more difficult to understand than narrative. It's metaphor and symbol-laden, the language is more compact than straight narrative and poems are often about things that are difficult, if not impossible, to articulate otherwise. Poems need to be read slowly, and I think when a modern reader sees something relatively short in length, he/she assumes it needs to be read quickly. That's not the case. Most readers also come to the page thinking they're going to get a narrative, when sometimes poetry is more about sound and wordplay, the same way that not all song lyrics "make sense."

Second, some poets really don't care about writing for the other 92% of the population. They're perfectly content with that. I had a poem published (in a reputable mag) that I don't expect anyone to "get" in the same way they would a narrative. But it was fun to write, and fun to read in the way that it plays with language, and I make no apologies.

That being said, there are many contemporary poets whose work is very accessible. Billy Collins and Tony Hoagland come immediately to mind. Steve Scafidi's "To Whoever Set My Truck on Fire" (http://fishousepoems.org/archives/steve_scafidi/to_whoever_set_my_truck_on_fire.shtml) and Nick Lantz's "The Year We Blew Up the Whale--Florence, Oregon" (http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/2010/09/nick-lantz.html) are great examples of unpretentious contemporary poetry.

As an English teacher, I can assure you that we teach tons of poetry in school. Unfortunately, most of it what's taught was published before my student's parents were born, and they have trouble connecting with it. I make it a point to use contemporary poetry in the classroom, and wish more teachers would.

But finally, I don't think it's fair to expect poetry to stay the same. "The Highwayman" was published in 1906, "The Raven" in 1845. They're great poems, but to criticize modern poetry for not sounding like them is kind of like expecting modern pop to sound like ragtime.
 

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It would be a shame if practitioners of other arts would take the same attitude as the not-caring poets.  For instance, actors could just move around (or not move around) the stage as they wish saying whatever sounds great to their own ears, laughing or crying as they feel impelled without any rhyme or reason discernible to the audience.  All that matters to these "artists," who feel no need to connect with others, is their own impulses and inner meanings.
I'm sure that students having trouble relating or "connecting" with poetry written long ago, also have trouble connecting with history and other academic disciplines not created in this century.  I think a gifted teacher can enrich their students' minds by making them aware and appreciative of past treasures without denigrating contemporary art forms.
 

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I have a several poetry books on my Kindle (probably as many as my DTB accumulation through the years before).  I think the teachers who insisted in parsing and interpreting every single word resulted in a generation of people intimidated at the thought of trying to read a poem. 
As a reader only (not a writer), I read poems to get the entire picture the poet is writing, then look at particularly evocative phrasing, and see whether any images or deeper meanings come to mind, but I don't try to work through some obscure interpretation of what hidden meaning the author has totally obscured. 
I applaud the PBS New Hour's featuring contemporary poets, which has led me to several new favorites.  Unfortunately their interviews air sporadically, though easily available on their website.
I also believe the community of poets and poetry lovers is out there, but since it doesn't garner a lot of media attention it flies under the radar.
 

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I wish I could give you a good reason for why I'm not a fan of poetry. Growing up, I was made to study poetry and even memorize some of it. I grew up liking poetry, even writing it. But over the past ten years, ever since I graduated from high school, my interest in poetry has decreased dramatically. I don't find it boring. I just don't try to seek out poetry to read for entertainment.
 

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I do like poetry. But sometimes I get caught up in books and whatever else, and don't spend as much time reading it as I would like. No formal training in it, so I also feel like I don't get as much out of it as I should. I just go with what I like..... That being said, there is a wonderful TED talk by Sarah Kay who is a spoken word poet. http://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_kay_if_i_should_have_a_daughter.html

Now that could make anyone love poetry, I think!
 

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8%? I'm actually surprised it's that high: I wonder how broad their survey sample was?

Anyway, I can't say I've ever been much into poetry -- I seldom even pay much attention to song lyrics. I do feel, however, that many modern poets have become like many jazz musicians: more intent on impressing those "in the know" than they are in creating art that can be enjoyed by casual fans.* In either case, that's certainly their prerogative; just don't come whining to me if the masses don't appreciate it.
__________
* Even I, who have played in some jazz bands in the past and own a fair number of jazz CDs, find many of the highly regarded jazz masters of the post-swing era to be unlistenable.
 

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I always say I hate poetry but I do love song lyrics, especially what I consider "story songs".  A few songwriters that come to mind are Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Al Stewart or Jimmy Buffett (how's that for an eclectic group? :D)  The last poem I really remember reading was in college, T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland".  I went home, read and puzzled over it and had no idea what it was about.  I went to class and the professor explained it, line by line.  I thought "That's really interesting."  But I don't want to have to have someone explain the poem to me; if I can't get any meaning from it myself, what's the point?  The only poetry I was ever blown away by was by the WWI poets, e.g., Seigfreid Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.  That is some incredibly powerful stuff.
 

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I love poetry -- but only short poems that get to the point.  I'd rather read 100 short poems than 10 long ones.  
 

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I think poetry is a distilled form of literature that isn't for everyone. I think some people love poetry and others find it's flavor too strong to stomach without cringing, too alcoholic.

I love confessional prose poetry. It's a treat to read. Kendra Grant Malone wrote a great book of poems that came out last year from Scrambler Books. When I didn't directly relate to these poems, I knew exactly what she meant, sort of, and that was good enough.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Great answers. Thanks for sharing. I think a lot of you expressed what I was thinking but didn't want to admit -- that it's intentioanlly complex, and elements like rhyming and story telling are looked down on these days (except maybe for slam or performance poetry, which is looked down on by many poets). I think when we're children, we love poetry, the rhyming, the story telling, the fun. We could remember poems and actually quote them. But it's hard to find stuff like that now. And only a few people, the 8%, actually enjoy working with references or teachers to try and figure these complex things out. I'm part of that 8% that reads poetry regularly, but I really hate that elitism, and I hope that changes and poetry is more accessible again.
 

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We have a poet in our writing group, and I've found that I enjoy his poems much more when he reads them to us, rather than me reading them silently to myself.

However, I've always enjoyed Shel Silverstein's poetry.
 

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Poetry puts me to sleep. Two lines and my eyes literally glaze over. I had to force myself to read the Sorting Hat songs and even then I skimmed over them. Maybe it's the rhythm. Poetry set to music is fine, maybe because I don't pay very close attention to the words.

 
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