Is Poetry Dead?

large-graveyardWhen I went to the library this week, I was disturbed to discover that I could not seem to find the poetry section.  I don’t go to this particular branch too frequently, and I knew they had recently done some remodeling, but after a considerable search, I still had found nary a tome.  Finally, in desperation, I asked a librarian.

“The poetry section, oh yes, our non-fiction section is down here, Section 801,” she said.  Since when is poetry non-fiction?  But I followed her.  Because, like I said, I was desperate.

What greeted me was saddening indeed.  “Section 801” consisted of exactly two shelves, both only about halfway full.  No wonder I couldn’t find it!  Most of these were anthologies or other “best ofs.”  A small handful of “collected works.”  I found this utterly depressing.

There was a time when I thought my future was in poetry.  It was very important to me.  There were periods of my life where I wrote at least one poem every day, for sweeping collections of days.  And I read even more poetry than I was writing.  Seeing these shelves, though, I felt a strange mixture of sadness and relief.  If this is the future of poetry, I’m glad I got out while the getting was good (a sad, glass-half-empty, resignedly “adult” part of me thought).

Perhaps even worse was the context.  The rest of the row contained nothing but manga and anime.  “Graphic novels” these are euphemistically called.  There is nothing “novelish” about them.  Extra-long comic books, they appear to be.  It wasn’t just the rest of the row, but three or four rows adjacent, occupying 100 times the space of the sad and sorry Section 801.

All of this abutted the computer section.  Computers take up almost more room than the books do.  These are full, of course.  The book aisles empty, but every PC monitor occupied by someone Youtubing or Facebooking or Googling.  All these techno-cyber verbs that would have sounded like baby talk gibberish just ten short years ago, but you all know what I’m talking about.

The computer section leads into the “media” section.  There are about as many movies as there are comic books.  There are even more video games than there are poetry books.  I don’t know if I can understand a definition of “library” that isn’t mostly about books.  Or even if I want to.

But I pick out some of the poetry offerings.  Thank the librarian.  One in particular looks promising.  “No, Not Today” by Jordan Stempleman (my intuition is not wrong; it’s the best thing I have read since I can’t remember when; good poetry can sometimes be like a gasping breath of fresh air after being underwater for uncomfortably long; so it is with this; divine).

Is poetry dead, or just forgotten?  I vow to write more, starting now.  Add it to my list.  Of frivolous pursuits that I find pleasurable.  Why not?

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