Tactics for Contemporary Sonnets

Contemporary sonnets are not easy to write.

Yet some have done it surprisingly well. Of the poems I liked best toward the latter half of this anthology, there seemed to be three general types of poems that employed either dense music to drown out the form; an “absurd” subject matter juxtaposed against the intricate, labyrinthine turns of the form; or a very faint adherence to the form, giving a vague echo or nod to the tradition while also breaking free.
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Can Poetry Please Get Real?

“Like priests in a town of agnostics, [poets] still command a certain residual prestige.”

-Dana Gioia, “Can Poetry Matter?”

The main problem I have with Gioia’s classic 1991 indictment of the health of the art, and all its subsequent aftershocks, is that this view of poetry still comes from within the tribe. Gioia blames the cushy life afforded by academia as well as tit-for-tat publishing and reviewing practices as the primary killers of poetry’s public appeal. But his article does not take into account other forces outside the scope of contemporary poetry and, owing to this fault, seems more inflammatory than revolutionary — adding another loud gripe, in fact, to the endless squabbling among poets.

Poets like to pretend that the decline of poetry is their fault, because if that were entirely true, then it would be entirely within their power to revive it as a major cultural force.

Art has always required its benefactor. Were it not for the Catholic church, for example, we would not have painting as we know it today. The church employed countless artists and kept them (and their art) alive. Poetry has never been practical, and the fact that it has now drawn inward to thrive primarily at the university level — like a tree pulling in its sap toward the trunk during a freeze — only leads me to be grateful that there is, in fact, some refuge for the impractical-but-necessary — for art — in our world. Universities are killing poetry? More like providing the last bastion to save it.
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