Lessons from the Poetry Recession

Is poetic stock on the decline?The current economic recession is my generation’s wake-up call about the difference between promise and lasting value. Whether we heed the call remains to be seen. The promise of ubiquitous home ownership, “money for nothing” investment strategies, and consumption founded on debt has collapsed. Some undoubtedly hope that we will be able to return to our collusion of shortsightedness soon. I hope, instead, that we can learn from this time to focus on more lasting foundations of value, which includes making responsible choices, and being grateful for the things that matter most in life.

Poetry, too, suffered a similar collapse. With the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, the mainstream audiences for both classical music and poetry went that way. And yet, fifty years later, I still detect a strange undercurrent of hope, among those deeply involved with poetry, that somehow poetry will recover its mainstream prominence. After all, we traditionally look to our national poets laureate to devise projects to increase poetry’s appreciation. Ted Kooser started the American Life in Poetry column to get poems back into local newspapers, and Robert Pinsky encouraged people to get together to read poems as part of the Favorite Poem Project. All of these efforts are commendable, and no doubt good for both poetry and society. Yet projects like these and countless others seem to indicate an underlying hope against hope that poetry can somehow regain its former glory.
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