View Full Version : Why is poetry less popular than in the past?
06-28-2008, 09:10 PM
Used to be that poetry was the main form of communication, until prose took over. Example, all but one of shakespeare's plays were in verse.
Homer's sagas were also in verse.
Seems like verse slowly disappears until prose takes over.
But nobody has ever told me WHY exactly? Do we demand more efficiency in our language in today's world? I know that there are still poetry sections in bookstores, but compared to the past, it's a small fraction of what it used to be.
06-28-2008, 09:20 PM
Used to be that poetry was the main form of communication, until prose took over.
06-28-2008, 09:25 PM
Poetry was quite popular until the 20th century (at least in the US). Poets were considered important artists and every newspaper had a daily poem. Any special event -- like a holiday or the unveiling of a memorial -- had a poem written for the occasion.
There are many reasons why it dropped in popularity. One I favor is that poets moved beyond the audience. The popular poems were usually doggeral, and major poets started moving on to free verse and all sorts of experimentation. Once poetry dropped rhyme and rhythm as requirements, people lost interest; the new forms mystified most people.
There was also the rise of other forms of entertainment. Before radio, people would memorize and recite poems as home entertainment, but once radio -- and later TV -- became popular, you could use that for entertainment instead of depending on yourselves.
06-28-2008, 09:35 PM
One I favor is that poets moved beyond the audience. The popular poems were usually doggeral, and major poets started moving on to free verse and all sorts of experimentation.
A point to back this up:
I've seen (as part of a class) nineteenth-century sales figures for poetry in Great Britain. I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but, even then, the poets of the era most artistically notable tend to have mediocre performance (Wordsworth is a good example of this), while poets who aren't regarded as well sold better.
Given that this is the case in an era when the poets in question are more relatively accessible, it can be easy to imagine it becoming a greater issue as the form further evolved.
06-28-2008, 09:40 PM
Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings. It's her fault.
06-28-2008, 09:49 PM
Don't you know that everything was more artistic/cheaper/better-made in the old days?
06-28-2008, 09:58 PM
Example, all but one of shakespeare's plays were in verse.
Not exactly. All of Shakespeare's plays have some verse; all but four have some prose. (The exceptions are 1 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, King John, and Richard II, which are entirely in verse. Conversely, five plays have more prose than verse: Love's Labour's Lost, 2 Henry IV, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Twelfth Night.
Shakespeare, of course, was writing for oral performance, and actors in his day had to memorize massive volumes of lines (plays were performed in repertory, so they had to know their parts in several plays at once). Verse is a memory aid -- if you've got the meter in your head, it's easier to figure out what's coming next. Try it yourself -- it's easier to get the lyrics to a song letter-perfect than to recite a passage of prose from memory. I expect this was also the case with the Greek epics, and I'd suggest that writers tend to use verse less often in our culture because our literary culture is almost entirely written, there are fewer things we're expected to memorize by heart. (One big exception is advertiser's jingles -- these are in verse because the writers really, really want them to stick in your head.)
I'd also suggest that there's more popular poetry in our culture than you might think -- it's just that it often doesn't register as poetry because it's set to music.
06-28-2008, 10:39 PM
I think all styles change, Tin Pan Alley lasted from the late 20s till the mid 50s when Rock Music took over and we entered the Rock Era which lasted from the mid 50s till the mid 90s when Rap and R&B started taking over, and finally R&B and Rap and Hip Hop became the mainstream of pop music replacing rock and roll after 2000. Of course the dates aren't clear cut, but styles change.
What happened to sitcoms? Did the writers and actors outprice themselves? That was a contributing factor but it simply grew stale.
The Flying Dutchman
06-28-2008, 10:47 PM
The popularity of poetry is stronger than ever. Only today it is more likely set to music.
06-28-2008, 10:48 PM
Exactly. What are songs if not poetry?
06-29-2008, 02:30 AM
Conversely, five plays have more prose than verse: Love's Labour's Lost, 2 Henry IV, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Twelfth Night.Love's Labour's Lost is about two-thirds verse. It incorporates more rhyme than any of his comedies except A Midsummer Night's Dream.
06-29-2008, 03:42 AM
Does anything else think that rap is the new poetry?
...I'm not a huge fan of rap, but from my disinterested position it looks as though rap has taken the position of "language-based art" that old-timey poetry used to have.
06-29-2008, 03:47 AM
There's no doubt that poetry is less popular than in the past. Lord Byron was the rock star of his own day, poems like Childe Harold and Don Juan (book-length narrative verses) sold in vast numbers, young women yearned for him, young men imitated him. It's unlikely that poetry will ever achieve those heights again.
06-29-2008, 06:42 AM
I think that part of it is simply that there are far more forms of entertainment to choose from nowdays.
May I just say thet the greatest poem in the English language EVER is Coleridges "Ryhme of the Ancient Mariner" IMHO.
06-29-2008, 08:02 AM
Love's Labour's Lost is about two-thirds verse. It incorporates more rhyme than any of his comedies except A Midsummer Night's Dream.
You're right. Sorry. The chart I was looking at had separate columns for blank verse and 5-foot rhymed verse, and I forgot to look at the latter.
06-29-2008, 09:26 AM
Related thread I ran two years ago: Nowadays, is there any popular poetry other than song lyrics? Why not? (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=379554)
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