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Should poetry be forced onto the curriculum?

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 16:44 UK time, Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Let's continue our literary discussion.

After the week when the biggest award in the literary world - the Nobel Prize for literature - was given to the Chinese writer Mo Yan, it's more than appropriate to talk about some problems in literature.

Last week I took part in the Liege Biennale of poets, which this year ran under the title: Should poetry be always modern?

Mo Yan

Mo Yan's career spans thirty years and takes in dozens of works

Two round-tables in particular drew my attention: How to Transmit Poetry? and Problems of Publishing Poetry.

As regards the first round-table, there is a near-universal concern among poets that poetry is disappearing from the school curriculum, that nobody - but especially the younger generation - is interested in poetry anymore, and that one should act immediately to save poetry from its death.
There must be serious reasons for these concerns.

But at the same time I'm sure that people were saying this 10, 20, 30 years or even - dare I say - centuries ago.

Those hundred-plus poets who were discussing the miserable state of poetry today were in fact denying that premise by their very own existence.

They came from different generations, including the youngest - the generation of poetry slams and rap.

Over the years I have noticed a tendency for previous generations to set up their own standard and vision for poetry. Anything beyond that vision is simply disregarded as "non-poetry" or "rubbish-poetry".

Beat poetry of the fifties and sixties was at odds with the generation of wartime poets, slam doesn't chime well with representatives of beat poetry, etc...

You want my opinion? I think that poetry finds its own way - all we can do is to make it widely available to anyone in any form, however people might need it.

In that way people who are interested in classic sonnets won't be fighting the rappers, the purveyors of slam-poetry won't be despising the vers-librists for the absence of rhymes, etc...

I have also noticed that Western poets (French, English, American, etc..) are sometimes envious of the fame of poets from traditional societies, where they are seen as semi-prophets and have a great following.

Very often this fact is taken as proof of the miserable state of poetry in the West.

In my last entry I discussed the opposition between information-based societies and emotion-based ones.
But even if we leave this argument to one side, those jealous poets don't see that, in proportion to its population, France has more poets or people who consider themselves poets than any of those poetry-driven traditional societies.

It's true though that while almost everyone writes poetry, almost no-one reads it. As that famous joke goes, 'I'm not a reader, I'm a writer!'

One of the poets at the Liege Biennale, John Glenday from Scotland, read a poem called Tin about the fact that the can-opener was invented forty-eight years after the tin can.

Let's hope that poetry works in a similarly mysterious way.

When you asked me for a love poem,
(another love poem) my thoughts
were immediately drawn to the early days
of the food canning industry -
all those strangely familiar trade-names from childhood:
Del Monte, Green Giant, Fray Bentos, Heinz.
I thought of Franklin and his poisoned men
drifting quietly northwest by north
towards the scooped shale of their graves
and I thought of the first tin of cling peaches
glowing on a dusty pantry shelf
like yet-to-be-discovered radium -
the very first tin of cling peaches
in the world, and for half a century
my fingers reaching out to it.

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