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.