Editorial: A future for poetry

lost in poetry
most cautious readers will find
thrills in pretty words

Arizona will have its first Poet Laureate after the passing of Senate Bill 1348. Earlier this month, the Arizona Commission on the Arts began work on nominating and selecting the state’s inaugural poet. According to SB 1348, Arizona’s first Poet Laureate will begin literary projects and facilitate readings to engage the state in deeper literary contexts during his or her two-year term.

Arizona, along with eight other states, has never had a Poet Laureate. When so many artists find Arizona to be a place of inspiration, it’s unfortunate that Arizona has been so late making a move that fosters creativity.

The Poet Laureate project asks us to reexamine the processes by which individual writers can be honored as poets. What qualifies as poetry, anyway, and what are the functions of poetry? Once, poetry served as a vehicle through which abstract ideals, such as beauty or virtue, were expressed.

Today, it appears that most writers of poetry do it for reasons that are confessional, cathartic and personal in nature. The goal for contemporary writers is to break apart traditional conventions of poetry to find something more expressive. Much like jazz music, contemporary poetry is about deviating from the conventional, adlibbing thoughts and words that come from instinct.

That isn’t to say that the writers don’t undergo a course of methodological scrutiny after every draft and revision. But if poets are looking at public interest for payoff, they might not find any. Poetry just isn’t as commonplace as we might like it to be. It might be taking a path similar to that of classical music.

As time goes on, poetry becomes revered as something ancient, time-sensitive and irrelevant to current times and cultures. Poetry is something that a 16th century Shakespeare writes and outside the context of our English classes and our diaries, we don’t see it as something that is immediately culturally relevant.

We are quick to dismiss the form of older poetry because we don’t understand its aesthetic or practical value; yet we are slow to take steps to make poetry more present in our daily lives. Even avid genre readers stick to their literary safety-zones and are reluctant to read poetry for pleasure. Perhaps it’s because no one really understands the rules or the benefits of poetry; perhaps it’s because poetry is more challenging than other texts to read.

But what about more current and accessible pieces of writing, like slam poetry? There are staunch opinions on the poetic value of things like slam poetry. While some criticize its performative qualities, others admire its inherent free-form style that seems to cultivate creativity.

We can argue the functions and motivations for writing until the end of time and never come to an answer that’s satisfying. Until then, we can only hope that Arizona creates an environment that honors the arts and makes its residents see how arts, like poetry, are relevant.

 

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