Monday, August 27, 2012

Stop Complaining About Contemporary Poetry, Because Steve Gehrke Is Probably Brilliant

Disclaimer: I wrote this pretty late last night after I got back from the RNC media party (open bar), and I don't feel like re-writing it for intelligence, so please read charitably. Hah.

First, I'm sorry I'm not writing about my life -- and I only say that because I'm assuming (WARNING: SOLIPSISM AHEAD) that most people visit this adorable little blog because they want to read about Glamorous Life In The Big Apple, and, unfortunately, my life is only describable as None of the Above. So I have to pretend I'm still trying to get a B.A. in English instead.

Now that that's out of the way, here's another little Contemporary Poetry Rant.

It's easy to go off on why all modern poetry is terrible, and it's The Poets' fault that nobody reads poetry anymore, but it's also The English Teachers' Fault, and it's also The People's fault, and our entire society is pretty much screwed because nobody reads verse and that means Western Civilization was basically a cute little failed experiment, and we should all invest in dry beans and plastic emergency blankets as the apocalypse is, for lack of a better term, eminent.

Okay. It's easy to say that.

But it stops being easy when you read Steve Gehrke. I wrote a little bit about him, and Serena wrote a follow-up, but he's not an international celebrity yet, so obviously we need to write more. Seriously, people. Read Steve Gehrke. This is not a drill. Do it. Stop reading this and go read him.

In case you didn't immediately close your browser and boogie on over to the Poetry Foundation's website to check out his work, here's an argument for it:

First, he's seriously good. He knows what he's doing, he does it well, and he accomplishes what he wants to do. Second, what he wants to do is really lovely and brutal and chilling, and it's worth doing, and I don't think I've read anyone who's done it quite as well as he does. Third, I think he really loves English. His lines have a vigor and intensity and (gag) energy that kind of pulsates, and he's hard to stop reading once you start -- in fact, I don't start reading one of his pieces until I know I have time to read it at least three times.

And if you aren't sold yet (which, IMO, is impossible, but this is a contingency paragraph), reading contemporary poetry matters. Especially if you hate contemporary poetry. It's easy to write it off (hah! a writing pun!) and ignore it, and just re-read the same old Hopkins sonnets you've been reading since freshman year when you discovered "God's Grandeur" and decided you'd found the zenith of Western culture. But that's intellectually lazy, and it stops being fun after a while. And poetry is supposed to be fun. And part of the fun of reading poetry is reading new poetry and having to decide if you like it, without the built-in Test of Time Answer Key. Contemporary poetry forces you to make a decision. Its quality is still up for debate. Nobody's concluded that it is or isn't good. And that means that you can pretend you're part of the canonization process -- which, if you think about it for a bit, is really, really, really cool.

So go read Steve Gehrke. You might hate him, and that's okay (actually it's not okay, but I feel like I should say that, just in case). Tell me what you think. And remember that if lay people don't read poetry, it will keep on being just for the elites who have (let's be real) kind of bad taste. And it will stop mattering altogether, and Western Culture might actually take a fractional, incalculable step away from loveliness. And your apathy will have played a role in that sad migration.

Go read Steve Gehrke, right now. This is not a drill.

No comments:

Post a Comment