Creating a Soulful, Inspirational Poetry for the Future
Poetry has arrived at an historical crossroads, a time when pursuit of the fifth revolution in poetics anxiously begs eruption. Four previous epochs in history infused breaks with the past by devising new styles or movements to meet the changing needs of a new epoch because of a paradigm change: the rise of a new social class, a changed world picture, new scientific theories, religious, social or economic developments, or a combination of those conditions. We sit poised on the doorstep of another such moment.
John Donne was instrumental in the first revolution which pursued a course through the 1600s. He altered the style and quality of poetic sensibility and developed the Metaphysical movement. The next revolution occurred in the 1660s, when Dryden and Pope led the movement toward the heroic couplet, away from mystery and paradox, away from imaginative or spiritual pioneering, and toward a crisp, plain and effective language which seemed to record what all men were thinking in their age while commenting on social and political conditions of their times. At the end of the 18th century, Wordsworth and Coleridge introduced the third revolution to purge poetry of endemic and antiquated language and diction. Finally, Eliot and Pound led the fourth revolution to continue the work of Wordsworth and Coleridge by purging intellectualism from poetic content.
Today, we are ripe for the next revolution. Poetry’s commercial irrelevance in contemporary culture creates a climate necessitating a revolution if poetry is to survive as anything other than an anachronistic relic of the past without any further use to humanity. The events of September 11, 2001, in concert with both Climate Change and the development and proliferation of the internet, created another paradigm shift in human history. This shift demands a revolution in poetry, just as it demands a revolution in every aspect of our way of life to save us from the worst effects Climate Change can wreck and the threat of an unending war against an amorphous terrorist network.
If poets have a sincere desire to broaden interest in their art, and if they really want to fulfill their natural duties as social critics, historical commentators, philosophical investigators and moral compasses for society (which should be poets’ aims), they must be willing to speak to people in a language commonly in use, as Whitman, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Eliot, Pound, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and many others all have indicated must be prized. I will be the first to admit that Eliot’s revolution continues today, and use of common vernacular, as opposed to some idea of a traditional, poetic diction and vocabulary, is not the problem facing contemporary verse.
It is not just a common vernacular which is to be prized in poetry, but also a common modality in communication expressed by a generation, age, movement, culture, lifestyle, economic system, and/or technological development which will impact and influence what someday may be considered as constituting language art at any given time, but which, nonetheless, must be the aspiration of poets who want to reach a public and inspire that public to its highest potential. It is not the pursuit of art which is critical to maintaining value in poetry; such a pursuit cannot rise above narcissism. The goal must be to inspire humanity, urgently inciting culture to strive for something greater than insouciant luxury while aspiring to the burning desire of the human soul to create a more meaningful life on earth.
The contemporary need poetry must address is its ever-growing commercial irrelevance. A soulless poetry does not inspire, and consequently, commercial viability wanes. The obsequious, commercial irrelevance indicates poets fail to reach an audience and that they are, consequently, failing to inspire their generation into pursuing humanity’s highest aims.
Today, multiple schisms in poetry have led to branches and movements for just about every minority and group. It also seems as if there is a particular schism in trends between a return to bland and antiquated Modernism in many of the voices of contemporary poets while a dry, emotionless and mechanical sensibility of Postmodern, mental gymnastics permeates the more recent generation of poets. Both movements prize intellectualism over emotion while neither ignites humanity’s collective soul with a fire for any sincere desire toward progress and change. Just as with music, in poetry soul must be prized if urgent communication to a receptive and motivated audience is to be forged.
There are more poetry journals in existence than ever: some print, some online, some both. Many are edited by minds which have been shaped and conditioned to accept the status quo. At the same time, others proclaim to be highly experimental. However, mental gymnastics and mechanical templates which jumble language combinations have nothing to do with the soul of language or the soul of a culture. Consequently, the readership for the journals seems to retain a restriction to MFA carrying, credentialed poets, critics, academicians and pedants.
Meanwhile, in clubs, poetry slams with radically experimental views on what constitutes art and poetry, a wilder poetry, of the people and by the people, piques an interest in a whole new underground. All too often that underground evidences a loss of touch with traditional poetic devices and techniques evident in the rich tradition of language art. Can these two divergent streams be melded into one great river, full of soulful wailing and exigency capable of overflowing the banks of complacency and flooding contemporary society with a compelling vision for the future?
When I read much contemporary poetry, I often wonder, is it really communication for a small community of like-minded people to restrict their communications to one another, and to a form seemingly only they can understand? I, for one, do not think so. I believe that such a course is elitist and narcissistic. I fear that poetry has sunk into a reverence for the status quo, into a circumstance where, even though the very nature of one’s apprenticeship as a poet demands aspirants should be revolutionaries in mind and heart, they meekly record the passage of daily life without the soulful inspiration of insistence or a dream for a compelling and inspiring future!
We live in a fast-paced world where instant gratification is the rule. If you want to make a purchase but are short on funds, just charge it. If you seek a piece of information, you can look it up on the internet. Individuals who intend to vote in an election, for several decades now, have found they no longer want to listen to long speeches in order to determine from their own analysis and interpretation what the positions of the candidates mean both for the individual and the country. It seems huge numbers of people are content with 15 second sound bites and accept the evaluations made by pundits and preachers on how to cast their vote. Blogs populate the internet, affording everyone the opportunity to make their voice heard on any subject. A bland morass of intellectual wasteland permeates, ingratiated to contemporary culture through ideas, analysis, commentary and answers steeped in the status quo and everywhere available to everyone from just about anyone.
Meanwhile poets with something to offer to the world, energized by a soulful approach to their craft, find their only avenue to expression lies in self-publishing. This severely limits the size of one’s audience, marginalizing the voices of the newly emerging, poetic revolutionaries who the contemporary world vitally needs to hear and read! At the same time, such an economic atmosphere protects the current culture from new thinking, new ideas, new hopes, new dreams and the soul of a new humanity.
The age in which we arise as conscious beings is ever-increasingly being defined by a worldwide movement not only toward the rapid exchange of information but also toward a worldwide, rapid exchange of personal opinions. Yet, many outlets for contemporary poetry make a taboo of interjecting personal opinions, philosophy, and cultural-political-social commentary. In this way, poetry potentially marginalizes itself as a communicative medium.
Sensory feelings are only half what make us human. Shall we lobotomize our poetry and deny the existence of the mind in order to hold tight to some status quo perception of what constitutes art? Is it our place to try to define art in our own times and own, self-indulgent terms to benefit our individual self-interests as economic units? Is anything art if it does not communicate to a broad audience? Can we call poetry communication if no one but another poet or critic really understands what the poet seeks to convey and/or is even willing to read the poem?
Symbolism must run rife throughout poetry. Poetry which is steeped in the French symbolist movement led by Baudelaire will maintain a valuable connection to the Modernist tradition, and, indeed, to the long history of poetry through the centuries. The French symbolists exploited the use of privately concocted symbols of rich suggestiveness. Contemporary poets ought to attempt the same, yet in a manner consistent with Donne’s early Metaphysical poetry; meaning one ought to be ambidextrous and use ideas and thoughts as symbols as well as employing events and physical objects as symbols alluding to concepts. One cannot divorce one’s intellect from one’s emotional self and still synthesize meaning and understanding from experience and sensation.
One will also find a benefit in incorporating symbolism from an impressionist point of view – meaning that even in a world we agree to accept as being objectively real, the perceptions each of us experience and conclusions we draw are all varied, or subjective. In other words, we each approach reality differently, based on individual, subjective impressions of that reality. Such a view of subjectivity implies all symbolism must be impressionist.
Advantages arise from incorporating into one’s poetry the surrealism from the tradition of the French surrealist movement begun in the 1920s with the appearance of André Breton’s Manifesto on Surrealism. The book expressed Breton’s goal of aiming for a revolution against all restraints on the free functioning of the human mind. Breton suggested a universal need among individuals, and society as a whole, to end what he called the “tyranny of certainty.” He felt the more natural human state was based on error of perception, error in analysis, error of understanding, and error in conclusion. In a world which is clearly comprised of myriad individual subjective realities, the most obvious conclusion is that each of our individual perceptions and conclusions about reality mirror Breton’s description as being based on errors in conclusions. Hence, imposing a surrealist perspective promotes freedom from uniformity, which is nothing more than conformity and always yields a false sense of certainty.
The concept of certainty, in a world where objective reality can never be apprehended because of the barrier each of us imposes to it through the intercession of subjective individual perspective, is patently absurd. Consequently, one will find absurdist interjections useful in creating a poetry which speaks to and impassions its readers. Without giving up the disciplines of logic, reason, morality and convention, I believe one must loosen restraints on them in order to transcend the control they exert on the individual mind. Strip society of its tyranny over the mind and the individual will find the freedom to arrive at a unique, individual interpretation of meaning as well as be able to usefully apply that interpretation in daily life. Poetry is all about putting one’s faith in freedom and exploring the possibilities life presents.
However, combining impressionist symbolism through a lens of absurdist surrealism, while critical to creating paradoxical (and highly ironic) poetry which can aspire to challenge readers to see the world in new ways and inspire readers to create a new and more desirable world for the future, is not enough by itself to assist an approach to transcendence. A better approach to transcendence can be found by lifting surrealism into a higher realm, which I call psychedelicism - indicating the bending of the mind in order to encourage transcendence through exploring insight and opening up consciousness to previously unknown aspects of itself. Psychedelic experiences result in creative exuberance arising from liberation over accepted, normal perception. The theory of infusing poetry with psychedelicism intends to infer exalted states of awareness and mysticism as bridges from the mundane to the quasi-divine. The psychedelic experience arises in poetry as the poet, poem and reader all travel streams of consciousness to heretofore unimagined conceptions of reality.
The use of these mind bending techniques will always be ineffective in leading to transcendence unless the poetry from which it springs also remains grounded in naturalism, realism, and a sense of bucolic, pastoral harmony. One must take care to create a foundation in truth and reality strong enough that fancy and insight may lift readers to ride upon them and thus see both into and through reality.
An additional value for asserting the need to ground contemporary poetry in naturalism resides in the realization that our era rests upon a precipice where nature is not only rapidly being erased by the ever-encroaching urban sprawl, but nature as we know it (and our civilization along with it) is also prone to eradication due to the effects of machines, technology and the industrial revolution. The entire 20th century has been a period when nature and the wild have been devalued to the cult of money. Consequently, there has never been a more significant time in human history to extol the virtues, beauty and value of nature in its most pristine state. Reverential attitudes toward nature in one’s poetry can only assist us to live in harmony on the planet.
There is room in poetry without sacrificing “artistic integrity” for lines which provide intellectual commentary or which arrive at intellectual conclusions just as did the poets of the so-called Victorian, Romantic and Metaphysical movements from Milton to Pope to Dante and Donne through Browning and Tennyson, stretching back to Homer, Hesiod and Ovid. Shakespeare’s writing provides the greatest of all examples of intellectual verse!
Is it not the responsibility of a poet to craft beauty and elicit emotional content out of common concerns, questions, themes and judgments? I believe so! Don’t poets owe a debt of clarity, honesty and openness to their readers? Again, I believe we must address the concern that some things are too important for us not to be forthright with our insights into beliefs and understanding.
We do humanity a disservice by failing to increase the impact and influence of poetry in the contemporary world, just as we debase the respect and value our current crass society and culture of consumerism and convenience hold for the poets and poetry of ages past at the same time. The more we, and publishers who do not invest commercial urgency into the collections of poetry they publish, devalue contemporary poetry and poets by failing to reach a contemporary audience, the more a commensurate devaluation of our rich, human, poetic heritage results.
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