The Death of Poetry? (And then, Speaking of Poems. . . .)

Well, no, or at least I don’t expect such demise is absolutely nigh.  But it is true that really long poems (think Wordsworth, for instance, and poems like “The Prelude” or Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” that go on for pages and pages) are rarer these days than a century or two back.  (Never read either?  I rest my case.)  Not that they aren’t being written at all, but. . . .

And yesterday I finished and submitted an essay, somewhat on request, to answer the question of why new generations don’t seem to appreciate poetry even as much as we do now.  What can we do to tempt them to read it and, hopefully, thus immersed discover for themselves its joys.  What do we as readers and writers find that attracts us?  (More on this later, the essay that is, if it is accepted — if not, you didn’t hear about it here either.)

Well of course there’s TV, and video games, and all sorts of distractions.  I in my essay discuss poems as music, but then can the printed (or even pixeled) page compete with concert footage on MTV?  For that matter, do we (in general) appreciate music as much as, say, people in Mozart’s time did?

But to stick to writing, can it be that we ourselves are changing?  Being spoiled perhaps by technology, but paying a price without even knowing it, part of which may be a dulling to things like poetry.  And so came today, via BIGTHINK.COM, an article by Philip Perry, “Cognitive Offloading:  How the Internet is Changing the Human Brain.”

To pull out two paragraphs:  We know for a fact computers are rewiring our brains.  One study using brain imaging technology showed that receiving reminders for an event actually changed activity inside the brain.  Though cognitive changes are occurring, most of us aren’t aware of them.  That’s not the case for Atlantic writer Nicholas Carr.  He says he notices it when reading.  Carr writes about this in his article, “Is Google Making us Stupid?” which was developed into a book, The Shallows:  What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.  Carr does credit the internet for making research that used to take days available in mere minutes.  But what we get comes at a cost.  Carr believes focus and deep contemplation are what we are giving up.  Furthermore, we may be better at multitasking, but creativity could be suffering.

Several other writers mentioned in the piece say that they used to be voracious book readers, yet cannot seem to focus and follow along anymore, preferring to do all of their reading online instead.  Today, people may be reading more than decades ago.  But according to Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University, we read differently.  We skim, wanting immediate information but missing deeper context, varying interpretations, and some of the richer portions of the reading experience.

May it be, then, that no matter what essays are written by we poets, no matter how tasty the bait we dangle, it will not be taken?  To QuillPenread more, press here.

And, speaking of poems, as of August 30 it seems I’ve had 236 of them published in various magazines and books.  It’s actually more, since the figure doesn’t count ones in VAMPS or in my long out of print chapbook TOWERS OF DARKNESS that haven’t also been published separately elsewhere (though it does count a few poems self-published on this blog only).  Also the figure for prose short fiction and novelettes comes to 271 (with possibly one or two stand alone story chapbooks omitted), for a total of 507 individual publications.  And this is original publications; a number of these have since been reprinted, some several times, as well as re-appeared in collections, but reprints don’t get any extra credit.

And so what, anyway?  Well, for the last few years I’ve been dutifully sending out my bio with submissions, containing a line that, in addition to various books, I’ve had “nearly 400 individual appearances from ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE to YELLOW BAT REVIEW.”  Sometimes I substitute XENOPHILIA for the latter title, but the implication is still from “A to (almost) Z” (though ABORIGINAL SCIENCE FICTION precedes ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S too) and from high circulation and well known to the small and relatively obscure.  For some time, though, I’d been putting off the task of actually counting them since whenever the last time was, but in an idle moment last night I thought, “Why not?”  It was just before bedtime and beat counting sheep.

So for whoever cares,  it looks like I’ll have to change that line to “more than 500.”

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  1. Congrats on the numbers, Jim! Good luck with placing the essay too –was the recent discussion on SFPAnet listserve of any use for your article? It was about generating interest in reading and appreciating poetry (speculative/genre). Carry on!

  2. I had been . . . well . . . skimming that, but my main source was a piece I’d written for you, for BLOOD & SPADES around 2010 or so, called “Edgar Allan, Allen Ginsberg, & All That Jazz,” on the emphasis of sound in poetry.

  3. Ah YES! And a fine column it was, Jim!




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