Poets Don’t Seem To Have Fun Anymore

Poets don’t seem to have fun anymore.

—Blaise Cendrars

No one has perfected a method to restore poetry’s place in public culture. It is unlikely that the art will ever return to the central position it once held. But is it unreasonable to hope that poetry can acquire some additional vitality or that the audience can be increased? Isn’t it silly to assume that current practices represent the best way to sustain the art into the future? There are surely opportunities for innovation, renovation, and improvement. Literary culture needs new ideas. Let me offer only two suggestions, both focused on poetry’s role in education, that might broaden the art’s audience. My aim isn’t to reject textual analysis, critical methodology, or literary theory as necessary elements of a literary education. These are powerful and legitimate ways of apprehending literature. My point is simply that they would work better if they were combined with other methods.

My first suggestion is to recognize the power of enchantment in teaching poetry. The best way to engage the imagination of students is to augment critical analysis with experiential, performative, and creative forms of knowledge. Memorization and recitation should be restored as foundational techniques. Bringing students the pleasure and exhilaration of poetry is necessary before the analysis of it has much relevance to them. There should also be creative forms of engagement such as writing imitations, responses, and parodies, or setting poems to music. Students need to have more experience listening to poems aloud, even though that takes up finite classroom time. Reading poetry silently on the page (or aloud in little snatches) as part of textual explication is an incomplete introduction to the art. It is drab and bloodless like viewing the masterpieces of Cezanne and Van Gogh in black and white reproductions. One sees some wonderful things but also misses something essential. Like song or dance, poetry needs to be experienced in performance before it can be fully understood.

Second, critics, scholars, and teachers need to recognize and respect non-conceptual forms of knowledge, which are fundamental to all literature, especially poetry. There are physical and sensory modes of meaning embedded in the rhythms, images, and verbal texture of verse, as well as emotional and intuitive movements in the structure of poetry. These are often difficult elements to summarize in abstract terms, but their resistance to conceptual paraphrase reflects the limitations of criticism not the limits of art. If we ignore or marginalize the physical and sensory power of verse, we lose precisely the magic that connects poetry to most people and thereby restrict its appeal.

Teachers and writers share a responsibility to create the next generation of readers. We need to create and cultivate in our classrooms a dialectic of intellect and intuition, of mental attention and sensory engagement. In poetry, intellectual-ity without physicality becomes dull and barren, just as intuition untethered by intellect quickly becomes sloppy and subjective. We need to augment methodology with magic. Blake asked, ‘What the hand, dare seize the fire?’ The answer is, of course, our hands—the skilled hands of teachers and writers. We’ve touched the fire of imagination, art, and language. We need to pass that fire on to the future. Why should we settle for a vision of literary education that does any less?

Adapted from http://www.thedarkhorsemagazine.com/danagioiapoetrya.html


  1. change poetry teaching method = ^ popularity


  2. Art=/=central place. Need new type of teaching poetry (poetry must be experienced before understanding). Physical and sensory modes must be recognized.


  3. students = should experience poetry


  4. MIP: 1) literature education needs to incorporate other methods; 2) poetry is enchanting and non-conceptual


  5. teaching combined methods (recital + creative + experience) = improving poetry. author is a teach and advocates for new methods to improve poetry


  6. poets=marginalized
    Suggestions in education: (1) appreciation combines with memorization and recitation; (2) emphasize physical and sensory power.


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