Yesterday was National Poetry Day.
But since Poetry is an endangered species of literature,
it came and went unnoticed by most.
Here is a tip of my Stetson to Poetry and its unremembered day:
Being a ghost, she warns me when I am about to be visited in the midst of my sleep.
She mutters under her breath as she was muttering now.
A reedy voice quavered in the darkness by my bed, "I have been one acquainted with the night.
A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness"
Robert Frost slowly materialized in a misty cane chair by my bed.
"I thought people would always be held fixed by poetry -- not necessarily mine. But now, poetry is as dead as I."
Gypsy muttered something in cat and shoved her head under my pillow, and Frost shook his head,
"Yes, even more so since I am keeping your loyal cat awake."
He smiled at my frown. "I am fluent in Cat."
His smile died, "But no one is fluent in the magic of poetry any more it seems."
I murmured a bit of "I Knew a Woman" by Theodore Roethke:
"I knew a woman, lovely in her bones
When small birds sighed,
she would sigh back at them."
He shook a long forefinger at me. "You do not count. You are Lakota."
I snorted, "We Lakota hear that a lot."
He ignored me. We Lakota are used to that, too, and he whispered,
"Society has been changing in a way that did not favor the reading of poetry.
From the Me Generation of the '70s to the get-rich-quick '80s, our culture became intensely prosaic.
Ambiguity, complexity and paradox fell out of favor. You the living embraced easily defined goals and crystal-clear communication
(Ronald Reagan was president, presiding over the literalization of America).
Fewer politicians seemed to quote contemporary poets in speeches,
and the relatively small number of name-brand, living American poets died or faded from view.
By the '90s, it was all over.
If you doubt this statement, consider that poetry is the only art form where the number of people creating it is far greater than the number of people appreciating it.
Anyone can write a bad poem.
To appreciate a good one, though, takes knowledge and commitment.
As a society, you lack this knowledge and commitment. People don't possess the patience to read a poem 20 times before the sound and sense of it takes hold.
They aren't willing to let the words wash over them like a wave, demanding instead for the meaning to flow clearly and quickly.
They want narrative-driven forms, stand-alone art that doesn't require an understanding of the larger context."
The ghost of Hemingway materialized beside him, sipping from a glass of whiskey.
"Roland is part of a world that apotheosizes the trendy, and poetry is just about as untrendy as it gets.
Bored housewives want to read books with buzz, the latest trend."
I shook my head. "Not everyone."
They both said as one, "You don't count."
I was starting to get a complex.
"Poetry is designed for an era when people valued the written word and had the time and inclination to possess it in its highest form."
Frost nodded, "Poetry is dead."
Hemingway scowled over to me.
"If poetry is dead, you prose writers are in the next ward over, wheezing noisily, with your family gathered around looking concerned and asking about your silverware."
I shook my head and murmured from Theodore Roethke again:
"I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow."
And since Gypsy is now a ghost cat, she drew her tiny head out from under the pillow
and yowled in a voice which sent shivers through the marrow of my bones,
"Little do you two-leggeds know of the things that ink may do, how it can mark a dead man's thoughts for the wonder of later years, and tell of happenings that are gone clean away,
and be a voice for us out of the dark of time, and save many a fragile thing from the pounding of heavy ages; or carry to us, over the rolling centuries,
even a song from lips long dead on forgotten hills.”
With that, Gypsy thrust her tiny ghost head under my pillow.
Frost turned to Hemingway and sighed, "When ghosts of cats speak wiser and lovelier than we, it is time to go."
Which they did.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
IS POETRY DEAD?
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU READ POETRY?
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU COMMITTED A VERSE TO MEMORY?