Sunday, February 22, 2009
Poetry in a time of Depression
I think a solid argument can be made, McGann aside, that good poetry courts timelessness. We can trace in a good poem ideologies, preoccupations, and imaginative vistas endemic to specific times and situations. Yet if there is not something about the poem which transcends these contingencies, what we have is dead meat. There is a rich history available to anyone with the will and stamina to investigate it, and no Zeitgeist has yet surfaced so singular that it has effaced our collective interest in what has come before. Though all these things are true, I have spent the last few days wondering (in spare moments) what kind of poetry a time of Depression calls for. This is, I might add, a time of Depression in America. Everything is becoming more difficult; certainties that we have all taken for granted (availability of jobs, affordability of goods, reliability of funds) are no longer certain; consequently, people are becoming hesitant, discontented, and shackled by circumstance. This goes for me, as much as for anyone else I know. For those of us who take our art seriously, and for whom going on your nerve is no longer as desirable (or possible) as it used to be, it stands to reason that this new socio-economic Depression should lead us back to fundamental questions of value and identity. Why write poetry now? What qualifies you or I to apply the appellation "poet" to ourselves in a time of Depression? If we are, in fact, going to write poetry and be poets, what should we write about, and how?
As a 2017 postscript to these queries: the Depression, which took on the moniker The Great Recession as of the early Teens, never really ended. Those of us who have continued to pursue poetry seriously have been thrown back on our own resources, to find our own answers. Many younger artists, as is de rigueur, have gone under. I continue to write because a continuing Recession or Depression has its own sense of interest or enchantment; how the human race en masse chooses to cope with loss and suffering; and to what extent art can be palliative in such a time. What I have discovered beneath the surface of human life is not necessarily comforting; yet I do have a sense of spiritual strength, both in relation to poetry and in general, which has consolidated itself through the trials and tribulations of the Teens.