June 9, 2010

Are we a generation of poets?

Last night I got involved in an interesting conversation in my writers groups about "the young people of today", which makes me laugh since I'm 25 and hardly what you would call old but I'm certainly not a teenager. We discussed how the modern teenager lives an open and superficial life; a life defined by facebook, myspace and twitter. Where everything is immediate and short. Where nearly everyone has ADD and cannot bear to look at something which requires an attention span that even a goldfish could cope with. I don't believe this is 100% true; I know 18 year olds who still delight in the works of Proust and Dostoyevsky, whose lives are not defined by the shallowness that facebook and myspace encourage. Although unfortunately this is not the norm, and more and more I see a world emerging that makes me feel old and alien. I am on facebook and twitter (not myspace though, ick!), but I am not part of the facebook generation. I grew up with real friends and real high school drama. I grew up reading Anne Rice (shut up), popular science novels and writing terrible tragic gothic romances while listening to Nirvana. Those were my teenage years. I didn't even have a computer until I went to university, and even then it was a crappy Amstrad with no internet connection, I only got my first desktop when I was 19 and my first laptop when I was 20 and moving to Germany. I didn't have fandoms or an iPod.

But nostalgia aside and back to the conversation, and you are wondering what the hell does the shallowness of modern youth have to do with poetry. Amidst all the 2 minute television and the "here and now" demands of the modern media you would think that one wouldn't bother with books because of the tl;dr stigma. Gabriel García Márquez might have won the nobel prize for literature, but the fact his first chapter opens with a three page sentence doesn't exactly give one the instant gratification the current society demands. I love García Márquez, but I could see why your average teen wouldn't read him.
"You would think in this day and age poetry would be a popular literary medium," one person said. 
It makes perfect sense, most poems (and I'm not talking the Epic of Gilgamesh here) tend to be a paragraph long, perfect for the modern day homosapien with a short attention span. Perfect for the person who travels a few metro stops to work and barely has time to read a chapter in a novel or a short story. Poetry is even accessible on mediums such as Twitter: 7x20 is a literary e-zine that is based on Twitter and publishes some good stuff. Even flash fiction and micro-fiction would be ideal for the current market. Less can be more when you look at the Twitter-based writer VeryShortStory who is indeed an excellent master at the art of micro-fiction. However, in spite all of these factors poetry is not the dominant medium, in fact the market for poetry is poor and pays a lot less than for prose. Is this also a factor that our society turns to literature not for artistic merit but for escapism? To lose oneself in a badly written yet escapist novel like Twilight or Dan Brown, or a better written novel that does the trick rather than read a paragraph of perfectly crafted words which describe something or a feeling? Is it not length that's the problem or the content? The question is why isn't poetry more important in today's society than prose.

1 comment:

G.~ said...

I couldn't agree with you more. My son is eighteen and my daughter is thirteen, neither one of them cares to twitter or facebook. They are texters though.

I believe it's important to get my kids out to socialize with people and have real conversations and go to museums, art galleries and book stores. They are definitely different than my generation but not so much that I can't relate to them.

Most of the kids now days seem to have no social skills what so ever. It's sad.