Sunday, 28 September 2008

Dead Poets...

Take a look at my bookshelves for a moment. Don't mind the mess. You'll probably notice that there's a copy of Christina Rossetti's collected poems sitting airily somewhere towards the top. Sylvia Plath's Ariel is sulking further down. Somewhere in the middle there's Donne, Blake, Yeats, Murray...

They've all got one thing in common, which is that they're, not to put too fine a point on it, dead. I've also got some stuff by living poets tucked away, but I suspect that the dead poets outnumber them. More importantly, I suspect that's true of almost every other poetry reader's bookcase as well.

Why should that be? Unless we're from the seventeenth century, I suspect that Seamus Heaney or Tracy Ryan speaks more to our immediate concerns than John Donne, and yet I'm more likely to return to 'the fever' than anything out of District and Circle. Perhaps the answer is that very often modern poets don't address universal concerns so much as the minutiae of life. As it happens, I think that both of the above modern poets do manage to cover broader themes by expanding from moments of narrow focus, but many don't. Somehow, the classic poets seem to have been more inclined to touch on the big themes. Maybe it's just that they were expected to.

5 comments:

Crafty Green Poet said...

hmm, my bookshelves contain far more modern poets than older ones. I agree with your comment about the bigger concerns to some extent, there is definitely a movement of quietist banal modern poetry that dwells on minutiae but tehre are a lot of modern poets who address bigger themes too, perhaps they're harder to find.

Lisa Damian said...

I am not as avid a poet as you, but I have read my fair share of poetry and have even written a bit over the years. My poetry courses in college certainly focused more on the deceased "greats" of the genre, but also touched on a fair number of modern poets. My bookshelves definitely contain more dead poets than living though. Kay Ryan was just appointed as the sixteenth U.S. Poet Laureate.

stu said...

I've got modern poets in there too, and I'm actually slightly confused as to how I ended up with more dead ones than living. It's just that, for the moment at least, things seem to have settled that way round.

Andi said...

I get my biggest dose of living poets from listening to the Writer's Almanac podcast. Ahh, Garrison Keillor's voice is just dreamy when he's reading poetry.

Alex Moore said...

I think we're exposed to the dead poets as youngsters...and we're more impressionable then. I remember the warm sensation of Keat's "Ode to a Nightingale" spreading throughout my limbs as I huddled between bookcases of our high school library. "My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense" is a line most angst-ridden teens can commiserate with.