We live in an age where pluralism and inclusiveness are the norm (Tea Party excluded), but disenfranchising divisions are still occurring. Music, visual art, poetry, prose, architecture—all the artistic métiers have within their creative borders a whole slew of tribes that speak their own patois. Look at the language barrier that exists between two people who might have gone to art school together—a gifted landscape painter and an installation artist with a political agenda, for example. They share almost none of the same concerns, intentions or audience. And certainly music is also splintered. Many classical musicians I know have no interest in studying jazz or other new musical forms. Creative gated communities get built and then thrive in their own microecosystems.

In addition, there is the added issue of audience division. How many times have I heard an self-professed lover of art talk about feeling disenfranchised by contemporary art conventions, or a long time symphony fan who feels alienated from modern musical forms? Many.

In an interview in Guernica magazine, poet Ted Kooser talks about the continental drift he has seen in the domain of poetry as well:

Ted Kooser: Every poet gets to choose what kind of community he or she serves with the poems, and it’s true that there is a community for very difficult, challenging poetry. It’s a community that’s established itself over the last 80 years, that was originally, in effect, really started by Eliot and Pound. They believed that poetry ought to contain learning, that it ought to rise upon all the learning that went before. But there’s always been the other strain; there’s always been what I would call the William Carlos Williams strain, in which poems of simplicity and clarity are valued by a different community. I was talking to Galway Kinnell one day, and he said that there was an audience for poetry up until about 1920 and then, from that point on, the poets and the critics drifted.

Guernica: Do you have a sense that in some ways, maybe these two different strains of poetry—if you want to think about it in that way—will be reconciled?

Ted Kooser: I don’t really know that they need to be reconciled. There are going to be poets in the middle ground—and, frankly, I’ve written some poems that are in the middle ground—who are in between very challenging and abundantly clear, but there’s a tremendous investment in the challenging poem, and it’s been going on so long that the whole infrastructure supporting it, a lot of critics and theorists and so on are deeply invested in maintaining that status.

Kooser’s point is well taken and applies to more than the world of poetry. Reconciliation between splintered artistic factions is not reasonable given the investments already made to keep those exclusive enclaves enfranchised. The middle ground approach he references might also be a position in itself, a way of navigating between disparate neighborhoods while not taking up residence in any of them. Which is another strategy to consider.

1 Comment

  1. Maureen says:

    I think Kooser’s points have some validity, though primarily in the academic community or “academy” world of poetry, where there is a clear delineation in camps.

    People I know who read a lot of poetry put in the time no matter, if the poetry has something to say and is well-crafted. But at least some of what’s described as “challenging” has little to do with communicating something meaningful. Who among us can’t point to a “challenging” poem and wonder how it ever got published? Some is entirely unintelligible, and that, when one is deploying words, leaves me unimpressed.

    Even the most accessible and “abundantly clear” poem can convey enormous complexity and be “challenging” to the thoughtful reader.

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