There’s not much room for poetry in the world today. Most of the texts produced now are text messages, not works of art. As someone who calls himself a poet, I’ve been wondering lately what this means for the future of poetry.
First, some history.
When we look to the literary period that began in the late nineteenth century and ended in the mid twentieth, the time known as modernism, we see the importance of voice in poetry. Modernist poets focused on developing their own unique style, their voice, as a vehicle for conveying their message. There was a sense that the poet could change society through art, even while the effects of modernity were sweeping across the globe, bringing about two world wars and mass anxiety.
Then came the 1960s, when culture blew itself up. Enter postmodernism and the assault on identity. Some theorists went so far as to announce “the death of the subject”; others insisted that the concept of an individual subject standing before objects-in-the-world was a fantasy in the first place, an illusion man held onto in the face of ever-changing realities (forget Reality) over which he had no control. Postmodernist poets found themselves imitating older styles, assuming distant voices as a means of mocking them and highlighting their insistence that there were no new voices to create.
Fast-forward to today. Culture in the early twenty-first century has eluded labeling. For our purposes, let’s give contemporary life the cumbersome title of post-postmodernism.
The internet has changed reality in ways we’ve yet to comprehend, and post-postmodernist poetry is still finding its way in a cultural landscape where Facebook and Twitter take up huge chunks of our day. Poetry’s not dead but at times appears to be on life support. We haven’t lost our desire for creativity—we just don’t rely as much on traditional activities (see Reading and Writing) for quenching our creative thirst. There’s a void in poetry today, a sense that it’s a matter of poets talking only to poets, that the common man has been excluded.
Wallenda is the daredevil who walked 1,800 feet across Niagara Falls on a two-inch wire on, what else, live TV. The self-proclaimed “King of the Wire” drew 13.1 million viewers on June 15, and many folks are still talking and tweeting and blogging about his feat.
Utilizing heroic action and the threat of disaster, Wallenda’s poem reminded us how much we’ve lost while trying to conquer Nature through technology. He recaptured the narrative of our conquest before we lost sense of it, many of us today blind to “the world-out-there” as we scroll through our majestic iPad screens to comment on the latest piano-playing cat clip on YouTube.
For a moment, Wallenda brought us out of our collective trance. We all became daredevils, anxious to hear the showman confess how much he had prayed for this to happen, how he had asked God for the strength to accomplish his goal of inspiring the world.
“Live your dreams,” he declared in full-blown superficiality.
In a country where most of us don’t get to live our dreams, where the promise of success to everyone who “tries” has been seen for the ruse it truly is, we needed this new poetry, this real-life illusion of renewed control.
Wallenda stayed upright the whole way, penning his epic poem. And we gladly fell for his act.