Poetry books rarely sell. We live in a highly visual culture. YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the film industry dominate. In an age where a movie like Avengers: End Game has a 365 million dollar budget, what role is there for a poet? How to compete? How to still matter?
Technology is a form of disconnection. We lose track of who we are. Communication—real communication—is, for the most part, infrequent or lacks substance. Surfaces, manufactured realities, and endless, glittery distractions make communicating on a higher frequency a challenge. There are more entertainment options today than ever before and yet, at the same time, less being said of substance. This all makes poetry more important than ever.
Poetry cuts through the bullshit. It declutters spiritually. It is an opportunity to dance, to experiment, to hone new answers to complex problems. Poetry is about breaking rules, wrestling demons, and entering alien landscapes where illumination still seems possible. Perhaps best of all, poetry can be a primal scream; a way to be heard; a visceral response to a technocratic world, to the suffering and hardships we all eventually must confront. It has survived thousands of years for a reason.
A good example of the continued relevance of poetry is Instagram poets. It would be easy to merely view the poetic work on Instagram as schlock and turn away from it entirely. But quite a number of IG poets are incredibly motivated and talented, conveying meaningful emotions and connecting with a dedicated fan base. Sure, many of these love sonnets and meditative reflections are not exactly on par with the works of T.S. Elliot or Emily Dickinson. But they are nevertheless a positive development, a sign that poetry continues to be important to large segments of the population. The average IG poet is making a real effort, is discussing poetry and sharing it with hashtags and learning and getting inspired and maybe even connecting, a bit, to a higher self. Poetry is far from dead.
In my own life, poetry has been a bit of a life raft. A survivor of Crohn’s disease, for over thirty years, poetry has helped me maintain equanimity in the face of numerous hospitalizations, intestinal obstructions, endless testing, surgeries and other hardships. It helped me in a similar fashion after I was hit by a speeding car while crossing a street in a construction zone—a situation which left me with extensive injuries and significantly restricted my mobility. Many times I was truly in a despondent state—because of various obstacles—when writing poetry helped me make the best of my situation. I would not have the level of well-being I do today without this powerful outlet.
In closing, poetry, for many reasons, is a vital practice. It offers us the chance to find our own voice, to follow a unique path, and to increase self-awareness. Poetry is the absence in our lives—confronted—the desperation in our hearts—suddenly not quite so overwhelming. This non-commercial outlet, this ancient practice, helps us remember what matters most. I’m thankful for it every day.