Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poetry Doesn't Howl Anymore

Allen Ginsberg

Another blow against contemporary poetry surfaced in Mark Edmundson's essay "Poetry Slam" in the July issue of Harper's Bazaar.  He complains that today's poets  are not ambitious enough.  Ambitious in the sense that they lack a big vision and are concerned only with small themes. They are writing in the sound of their own voices---their own uniqueness, rather than speaking expansively. He bemoans the missing 'we and our' in poems.


I think, to a degree, he has a point.  Art does reflect the times in which it lives. The times they are narcissistic, which causes poets to draw inward and be focused on their own experiences, rather than facing outward.  It is easier to ruminate and stay in a circumscribed comfort zone, rather than take on the world and the future.


Edmundson misses some of the 'outward facing' poets of the past like Shelley, Yeats, Williams, and Ginsberg, to name just a few mentioned in his article. This is a call for poets to speak more often about our common experiences.


I think there are contemporary poets that do speak to larger, universal themes, among them Natasha Trethewey (appointed for a second term as poet laureate) and David Whyte.To quote David… "A good poem, is a brave intuition of what could be or what could have been, it looks life straight in the face, unflinching, sincere, equal to revelation through loss or gain."


So poets…write whatever you want, however you want, but on certain days summon your courage to think big, look life in the face and howl.



  1. I read "Howl" again last year. It is an amazing work. It must have been more amazing to see Ginsberg perform it.