Modern poetry is almost totally obscured in esoteric, academic constructions
Meet Warren Zevon, a person you have probably never heard of before. The opening lines of his song, “My Ride’s Here” read, “I was staying at the Marriott with Jesus and John Wayne. I was waiting for a chariot. They were waiting for a train.”
In the short space of a few unassuming words, Zevon managed to deconstruct America’s iconography, burst a bubble of religious self-importance, broach the topic of his impeding death from inoperable lung cancer, bring a lump to my throat and make me laugh. Incredible!
I used to write poetry as a frustrated young man, and in the few months that I was gainlessly underemployed at the local income tax office. I understood it to be the shorthand of the soul and a soapbox for the overflow of emotions. I wasn’t very good at it. My problem was this incredible urge to make everything rhyme, and to find a rhythm in the words. It never reached the point where it earned me any money.
I wish I could have written as economically and incisively as Warren Zevon. But I have moved on from there, almost.
Once upon a yesterday, poetry and poets achieved and held the lofty status of a branch of the entertainment industry. People would learn poems and recite them to friends and family, taking enjoyment from the words, stories and thoughts.
Instead of action movies, there was ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and other poems like it. Even in the early Nineteen-hundreds, poets like Dylan Thomas had the status of rock stars and recited to sold-out houses. Dylan Thomas’ American tour had all the decadent characteristics of a major Seventies stadium tour, up to and including his wife trying to set alight his oxygen tent with a cigarette, as doctors struggled to retrieve him from a near-fatal, fan-induced alcoholic coma. That sort of popular esteem is now a thing of the past, though relationship therapy seems to be doing well.
Like all arts, modern poetry has reached the point were the ideas have become subject to the cold intellect of the form. With a few exceptions, the poetry that I come across today is almost totally obscured in esoteric, academic constructions. I can’t understand much of the jumble of words, and the coherent sentences are few and far between. I have better luck with cryptic crosswords, and I’m not very good at finishing them.
Can you blame the public for staying away in droves when what they really want is a little bit of entertainment that helps them forget the cares of the day, not edifying intellectual contortion. The public’s appetite for poetry can be measured by florid ‘shoot-me-before-I-die-of-embarrassment’ photocopies that mysteriously adhere to the walls of workstation cubicles. It can also be seen in ‘cute’ romantic rhymes that cause everybody to gag, except on Valentine’s Day.
But perhaps poetry has come full circle. The first poetry was purveyed by minstrels, troubadours and other strolling strummers. Today, it is the same. As a reference for thoughts and new ideas, you can’t do much better than the latest angry young rock star or muttering rapper. And if love is a universal, unchanging theme, maybe the unoriginal lyrics of every, new young diva are to be forgiven, if only slightly.
Emotional expression and a fresh look at everything we took for granted are ways that humanity renews itself. Reassessment, reinvention and rebellion against what is are a continuous trend. Without it the human race would be boring and predictable.
Perhaps poetry should not be seen as the art so much as the medium for the deeper art of expression, even if you can’t understand it. Perhaps the same can be said for the more popular form of music.
And although most pop music is bogged down in the mediocre swamps of hit radio and video jukebox shows, occasionally truly great, poetic lyrics rise up and catch us by the throat. As long as the kids, and even the old people who swore they would die before they reached the age of thirty, are musically rebellious, angry or just plain thoughtful, we’ll all be alright.