Sunday, May 3, 2009

Burying the Lede

It is a rare and joyous occasion when I get a comment on a post other than the "Great Unseen Middle" essay I did a while back. Even better is when that comment gives me opportunity to question my assumptions, or look on what I am doing with a more critical eye. The following was from Keefieboy

James, I've been following your blog for a while, and just a few days ago found out where the real meat is. The problem (for me) is, you seem to start each post with a bit of poetry. I don't really enjoy poetry, so whenever I saw any on your blog (I get an alert whenever you update it), I would just go away. A few days ago I realised that scrolling down yielded some decent prose. Perhaps it would be better to separate them?

I will quibble with the bit about starting a post with poetry, as I actually do two separate posts each night. But, seeing as how I do the poetry part last, and it always ends up on top, it really amounts to the same thing. That in mind, I think Keefieboy makes a very valid point.

Who reads poetry anyways?

I ask this not to denigrate the form, which would be kind of a silly thing to do, seeing as how I'm always chucking up my attempts at lyric and verse on the page here. No, I ask because I think the question is pertinent. I know why I write poetry, because I enjoy it. I enjoy the freedom to dance with words a bit, play with image, with sound, imagine myself as a pen wielding Cirque du Soliel, or as much of one as a hack like me could be. But that doesn't answer the key question.

Who reads poetry anyways?

In Canada, the state of the publishing industry being what it is, a bestselling hardcover might move 5000 copies. As low as that number seems, if a book of poetry moved one tenth that, it would be cause for the publisher to break out the Ritz crackers and maybe a box of wine if they wanted to go hog wild. Any more would break the budget. Back in tha day,well... not "tha" day, but "my" day, those interminable years as an undergrad when I sat in far too many workshops, one professor who had a great gift of being able to excise any and all sentimentality or wistfulness from his being, when the occasion arose, stated plainly that in many countries in Eastern Europe, books of poetry often sold 50,000 copies or more. There were, we learned, places in the world were poetry really mattered, was read, recited, and passed on. Where we live, he made clear, the English speaking world, is not one of those places.

So, who read poetry anyways? A whole lot of people, it turns out, just not anyone I'd know or be able to speak with absent an interpreter or years of language classes. Many of my students love poetry, and in the Gulf there seems to be a renaissance of the form, though in Arabic, in the spoken word derivation. In high school Arabic classes, students are encouraged to write poetry, and for my students, this constitutes the totality of their creative writing experience. They take to it, but not, from what I can gather, because they love poetry. But because the love Fifty Cent, Tupac, and (until the end of my days, I will never understand this) Shaggy.

They don't like poetry because it is poetry, they like poetry because it, to them, is like rap. And with rap being seen as haram (wrong/prohibited) by pretty much every adult Khaleeji I know, this leaves spoken word poetry as the only outlet for any number of teenage males here to enact their own version of 8 Mile. Still, however strong their love for the form may be, they're not the ones who'd be reading this blog or others like it. I have to keep in mind those kind few souls who might pass more than a glance here, were it not for poem shaped "stop reading" signs at the top of the page each day.

As my wife's friend said to me the other day "Hey, I went to your blog, but I just saw some poetry there. Can you send me the address again?"

A crushing blow and a telling statement all in one. I told her to just ignore the boring bits and scroll down.

What to do?

I won't stop writing and posting poems, however dreadful they may be, because, like jumping jacks, a walk around the track, and a half-hearted attempt at a push up, they at least give me the illusion that I am exercising my mind, and keeping it flexible. But perhaps I should bow to the collective wisdom of indifference to poetry, switch up the order a bit.

So, starting tonight, I'll put the good stuff on top, and keep my daily folly out of sight.

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