Nowadays, is there any popular poetry other than song lyrics? Why not?

I was reading George Orwell’s essay on Kipling (I’ve read it several times before but I’m on an Orwell kick just now), and came across this passage:

And I reflected on the age we live in now. Except for the writers of song lyrics, do we even have any very popular “good bad poets” any more? I’ve been to open-mike poetry readings in my time and the most striking thing about them is that what you hear there does not even slightly resemble anything you will hear anywhere else outside of a literature class. And even those poets aspire to be “good” rather than “good bad”; many fail by the former standard, but almost none ever succeed by the latter. How many poems of any kind written in English, the past 50 years, are memorable, or widely known outside the literati? How many can you quote with the expectation others will immediately recognize them? None I can think of. Practically all of the poems we were forced to memorize in high school were written before 1950. If you’re lucky you’ll be exposed to a bit of Allen Ginsberg or William Carlos Williams, but the clock stops there, and how many people would recognize a quote from either?

Why is that? As a librarian (and of course as a Doper) I can assure you, millions still read (and recognize references to) contemporary novels and short stories, including highbrow stuff as well as bestsellers. What’s become of poetry as a popular art-form?

BTW: The only contemporary piece of pure poetry I can think of that has made any impression on my memory is The Alamo, a book-length historical epic by Texan Michael Lind, written in the archaic “rhyme royal” form. And I’m sure I never would have read it, but that I was a fan of Lind’s for his political commentary, and while doing some research into recent periodical literature by or about him, happened to come across a review in The National Review (from which Lind is a semi-famous apostate) that denounced The Alamo’s poetic qualities so bitterly that I immediately needed to know more. (The NR reviewer lied through his/her teeth, IMO, but judge for yourself. Lind is, at any rate, no good bad poet.) And The Alamo is Lind’s only foray into poetry AFAIK. And I very much doubt that a single verse of it ever will enter into the collective unconscious the way Kipling or John Lennon have.

Qualifier: I do remember a great deal of fairly recent poetry but practically all of it is comic or satirical, e.g., Mad magazine parodies (many of which were responsible for leading me to discover the much older poems they satirized), or Calvin Trillin’s short barbs in the The Nation, or the haiku and limericks many Dopers author and post in CS.

After, say, Adrienne Rich? I hate to say it, but I do kinda think poetry is dead as in doornail dead. Nobody comes to the library looking for modern poetry, at least not at my desk. I don’t know anybody, even literature people, who read it, either.

Poetry isn’t a popular art form anymore. It’s a niche art form, and will probably have a long and healthy career in that vein.

A lot of what poetry used to do has been overtaken by other art forms that have broader appeal. Narrative poems, for example, have been displaced by prose. Imagistic poems compete with photographs.

I think it’s in a similar situation as painting. Once photography came along, painting changed, and atomized. It was free from having to accurately represent reality, and free to do whatever the artist wanted.

Poetry will always appeal to a select portion of the population, and may from time to time break into popular consciousness. But I think it’s destined to be a specialized pursuit. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s pretty much the nature of art forms. Some just have longer popular careers than others.

Unless you count children’s poetry. Kids still read Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. I think some of their stuff counts as real poetry, but I can’t think of anyone writing for adults recently who has anywhere near the same appeal (unless you count song lyrics).

Actually, if you read most song lyrics without the music, they’re pretty poor poetry. Adding music covers up a lot of shoddy writing.

Put another way: What poetry is being written now, or has been written since 1950, that Mad magazine or its future equivalent will ever consider useful material for a parody? (Bearing in mind that when Mad does this it is almost never poking fun at the original poem, but using it as a template for jokes about some entirely different subject.) I can’t imagine Shel Silverstein ever getting that kind of treatment, his verse being consciously humorous in the first place.

Oh, that’s indeed true - and not only are there children’s poems, but many children’s books are in a rhyming format even though they’re not presented as poems specifically. (As a child I also loved Judith Viorst - imagine my surprise to find as an adult that she still writes poems for me!)

Poetry is one of the most popular and marketable art forms in the United States today. I can’t think of any word that fits the phrase “popular poetry” better than “rap”.

And I can’t think of a word that fits the phrase “popular rap” better than “crap.”

The New York Times Book Review features books of poetry regularly, if not every single issue.

Google news reports 1990 articles on Donald Hall’s being named the new Poet Laureate.

Poetry’s no more and no less popular now than it has been since around the 1920s, the last time poetry as a genre sold well in the U.S.

Not counting Rod McKuen, of course.

I think we’re just around the corner from a REALLY big villanelle revival.

. . .I read modern poetry. I even have preferences about modern poetry. But, then again, I"m weird.

Rap seems to be the return of poetry to the mean streets and its denizens. I admit to having very little taste for rap, but one can’t have it both ways: if you’re gonna bust on it for not being melodic and tuneful, you have to give it leeway to be acknowledged as poetry.

Oooh! Oooh! I love villanelles! They’re devilishly hard to write. I hope you’re on to something.

Thanks for sharing!

I’m talking about poetry other than song lyrics. Rap falls within the definition of “music” at least by stated intention of the authors (not by any other measure, but that’s another discussion).

But how many people would actually recognize a quote from Rod McKuen?

I just read a poem at an “open mic” night just this Monday. I was pretty well received, and hope to become “popular” someday.

“Def Poetry Jam” on HBO highlighted some outstanding contemporary poets.
Suheir Hammad moved me to tears. Michael Ellison is a wonderful writer and spoken word performer. Kevin Coval is amazing.

Def Poetry is available on DVD at the HBO store. I found a pearl in every episode I’ve seen.

To follow up,

Though not quite the rage they were a couple of years ago, there’s still a huge national cultue. Do a Google for “poetry slams.”