amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rumours of the death of poetry

in today’s Ottawa Citizen. To mark National Poetry Month, columnist Robert Sibley fondly reminisces about the poetry of the dead, quoting text from Andrew Marvell and Wordsworth. He wishes people still read poetry and he quotes an American poet Alexander G. Rubio, who dismisses contemporary poetry with these words: “The sad fact is that poetry, as anything other than a private concern, or a parlour game between a closed circle of devotees, is a thing long gone.”

Sibley feels that people aren't reading poetry much anymore. To be honest, I don't really know what the vast majority of people are doing, but I have a problem with the way Sibley backs up his argument, by citing the above dismissal of contemporary poetry and reminiscing about dead poets.

I’ve ranted about this before, that in this attempt to supposedly celebrate National Poetry Month, Sibley and other Citizen journalists don't at all bother to seek out contemporary poets, local poetry or anything about the local poetry scene. In this case Sibley refers to dead poets and American articles about poetry.

Not only that, but this article is relegated to the on line edition only, and is damn difficult to find, even on line. The writer and the newspaper create a self fulfilling prophecy. He complains that few people are reading poetry, but he doesn’t bother to find out about local readings. With the popularity of the Writers Festival every year, brisk sales of poetry books by Nicholas Hoare at the festival, all the other events going on around town, the increasing number of literary journals and poetry magazines, the numerous blogs and review sites on line and yep, the sold out spoken word poetry shows, poetry isn't doing too badly.

Why does the media continue to perpetuate the myth that no one is reading poetry, that it’s just an insiders’ game? I guess that makes it newsworthy, but to me it’s just poppycock...based on what I experience in Ottawa and what I hear about activities in other cities worldwide. I am sure that it's not as popular as the latest violent movie or video game, but it's a part of many people's lives.

And frankly, tot all of the kids who were force fed poetry in school remember it with fondness now. Personally, being forced to read and memorize Wordsworth's Daffodils poem when I was in grade 7 resulted in my not even looking at poetry for years, dismissing it as sacharine and dull.

A few years ago, I visited a poetry enrichment workshop for high school students. Most of them weren't even studying poetry and if they were it was the dreadful Edgar Allan Poe, nothing Canadian at all. They had no idea that living people were even writing poetry, nor did they see the relevance of flinging open the shutter "with many a flitter and flutter" yada yada in their own lives. I don't blame them.

Why don’t these journalists actually talk to people who run reading series in Ottawa like Dean Steadman of Tree, rob mclennan of the Factory Reading Series and a ton of other poetry related stuff, Steve Zytveld of the Dusty Owl, local publishers like Chaudiere Books or Buschek Books, local poets like Stephen Brockwell and Monty Reid, magazine editors like Anita Lahey of Arc. Or even look at the activity of other cities like Montreal and Toronto. Why do journalists who try to write about poetry today exclude the living from their articles?

I believe National Poetry Month should be about the poetry that lives and breathes today. Yes, for sure, remember and respect what has come before, but there’s plenty of contemporary poetry out there to read and plenty of poets around to talk to. Why can’t the media, especially the Ottawa Citizen ever take that into account?

[i'm not putting in a bunch of links, since i plan to post every day during NPM...]


Max Middle said...

& there's even a dynamic new creature on the local literary scene: The A B Series.

Amanda said...


Steve Zytveld said...

I'm going to take a closer look at Sibley's column later tonight as, interestingly enough, I am tuckered out having just finished getting out a whole bunch of posters advertising this weekend's Dusty Owl.

But what I saw of it didn't really impress me. I don't even think Sibley -- like his friend and/or philosophic ally David Warren -- lives in Ottawa.

I do wish someone -- apart from the CBC and the various devoted blogs -- would make the coverage of Ottawa's literary life a bigger priority.

By the way: keep up the good work, Max and Amanda