Is Poetry Still Relevant?

At one time, poetry as an artistic and literary form, was everywhere. It was printed in newspapers and magazines, it was memorized and repeated, it sold books in major quantities.

Is that true any more? When was the last time a recent poet or poem had a major cultural impact? The end of Game of Thrones was a cultural event. Kids lined up to buy the newest Harry Potter book. Movies, books, and TV still capture the public’s attention. But what about poetry?

In The Past

To be sure, poetry is still studied and learned in high schools and colleges across the U.S. (and the world). Students might still learn about Shakespeare’s sonnets, and write their own.

There are famous lines of poetry that have entered the cultural lexicon, from Blake’s “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright” written in 1794 to 1883’s The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, now engraved on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

But these are older poems, written by long-dead poets. What about poetry that is being written today? When was the last time you memorized a poem written in, say, the last 25 years? When have you overheard someone quoting a stanza from a modern verse?

In The Present

It’s true, that there are a number of people who are active, working poets. There is a Poet Laureate of the United States. A good bookstore will have a sizable poetry section, with new releases from poets like Billy Collins or Louise Gl├╝ck.

And everyday people regularly try their hand at poetry, from the humble haiku to the funny limerick, from highly structured verse to unstructured stream of conscience.

However, poetry today has definitely lost the stature that it used to hold in our society. While poetry has the ability to capture the mood of a particular moment in public consciousness, it would seem less likely to make a major impact in society at large.

In The Future

Maybe it simply takes more time for poetry to be accepted by a large segment of the population. Maybe we won’t really know what poetry that has been written in the last decade will be repeated and memorized by schoolchildren a hundred years from now.

It’s also possible that songs fill this need and play this role in our current society. Are modern songs merely poetry set to music? Do songs and rap, which definitely have a large cultural footprint, speak for our generation the way Wordsworth or Browning did in the past? Will portions of Lin Manuel Miranda’s play Hamilton be remembered and quoted the way Frost’s Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening, written nearly a hundred years ago, is to us today?

At any rate, poetry as it was known a hundred, two hundred, five hundred years ago is quite different from what it is today. Is it still relevant?

Related questions: What are the benefits of fiction? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? How does vocabulary influence how you think?

What Is Beauty?

There are many things that can be considered beautiful. For example, you might consider a painting a thing of great beauty. A particular song, a pair of shoes, a deer in the woods, an elegant theorem — all might be considered beautiful.

But what exactly does that mean?

Studies have been done where people rate the attractiveness of faces shown to them. As it turns out, people tend to prefer a face that is more symmetrical. Why? The presumption is that symmetry denotes health, which means a good candidate for successful mating. What we find beautiful is encoded in our genes as an evolutionary strategy.

Or is it? It seems that notions of beauty change over time. In the middle ages, women as depicted in paintings tended to be larger than the wafer-thin models that stride the catwalks.

Are we simply programmed by our society as to what constitutes beauty? The people we see in magazines and on television… are they in our media because they are beautiful, or do we consider them to be beautiful because they are in our media?

Similarly, we can consider the art world. Imagine a particular painting is prominently displayed in a museum, or is sold for a large sum of money, or is presented in an art history class. Might we not start to assume it has great beauty?

Some people describe ideas as being beautiful. But what does beauty mean in that case? Does it simply mean that it is useful? Some might describe a theory that explains a complicated idea in a few short words or equations as elegant. Is “beauty” in this case just a synonym for “simple”? And do we mean the same thing when talking about art, or ideas, or faces?

What is beauty?

Related questions: Why do we like what we like? How much of our thoughts are our own? How important is the artist to art?

What Is Your Voice?

Finding your voice is crucial in any artistic field. It is what makes you different from anyone else, what helps you stand out in a crowd.

In music, where the term “voice” originated, a singer’s voice is their calling card. You can often identify a song based on just a few notes from a distinctive vocal. It is even possible for a musician to have a distinctive instrumental sound — a musical voice with no actual voice!

Similarly, an author works hard to develop a literary voice. Once it has been discovered, you can often identify an author solely by reading a page of their work. The vocabulary that is used, description, dialogue, cadence, sentence and paragraph length all can help to uniquely identify a writer.

The same thing holds true for other artistic pursuits: drawing, painting, sculpting, acting, etc.

However, when an artist is just starting out, they don’t yet know what makes them stand out from others in their field. How are they different? It is only through repetition that one discovers, or uncovers, their own distinctive perspective.

The idea carries over outside the arts, as well. Each person is different, from their DNA to their experiences. The way that they express themselves, the way that they interact with the world, will be distinctive individually.

Anyone who has gained some experience in an area can have developed their own voice. For example, a veteran computer programmer, may produce code that you can identify (provided you can read code!). A mother with several older children will parent differently from any other mother.

What areas of expertise do you have? Have you developed a singular vision and expression, artistic or otherwise? What is your voice? Are there ways other than practice that you can develop it?

Related questions: How do you define success? What makes you you? How important is the repetition in our lives? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better?