Poetry is dead and academics killed it, but at least its soul lives on

Poetry is dead and academics killed it. I understand that this is a strong claim, but I want you to think about something. I’m sure all of you have at least had some experience with poetry, what with this being an institute of higher learning and all, but I want you to think about the last time you actually sat down and read poetry for fun.

The fact that there are probably people out there who would cringe at reading the words “poetry” and “fun” together just serves to reinforce my point. People read poetry, and in fact many people have favorite poems, but raw poetry just doesn’t seem to find its way into our lives as much anymore.

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I know among my friends there are always conversations floating around about new books to read, new music to listen to, new movies to see or even new artists or exhibits to check out.

When it comes to poetry though, I’ve never had a friend in conversation say to me “Hey, you’ve got to check out this poem I read.”

It seems to me that the current academic situation of poetry has left people feeling less than thrilled about the art. Who doesn’t remember looking at a Shakespearean sonnet and having a professor go on about “close reading” and trying to find the deeper meaning of the poem?

This approach then turns what should be an interesting and enlightening form of entertainment into what essentially amounts to a very hard and vague puzzle to decipher. It enforces the notion that poetry is about rigor, discipline and repetition.

To a certain extent repetition is needed to appreciate the fine points and nuance of poetry, but the same is true of other artworks as well. I know I usually don’t catch all the meanings in the lyrics of a song the first time I hear it. Heck, sometimes I catch new meanings years after I’ve first heard a song.

I know I don’t catch all the little details in most paintings and images the first time I look at them. Books seem to be an exception only because the whole composition can be drip fed to a reader, thus time to think and reflect is inherent to the process of reading a novel.

But there are other reasons we look at images again or listen to songs again. There’s something about the composition itself that is pleasing. A melody that catches our fancy or a particular shade of blue that sparks an emotion. There’s something beyond the message and instead something about the medium that keeps us coming back to the art we love.

This is where I feel poetry is crippled by formal study. In the classroom poems are treated like a novel. Something to be read in one’s own time, annotated, then brought back to class to have it’s meaning deciphered and then the poem is never touched again. Poetry isn’t meant to be read though. To truly enjoy poetry one should be able to close their eyes and listen.

Poetry grows out of the oral tradition and thus its artistic nature relies just as much on the rhythm and flow of the words as the meaning.

Thanks to the rhyme and pacing inherent in traditional poetry, bards and common folk alike could easily memorize and recite the great epics of their culture. The “Odyssey,” “Gilgamesh,” “Beowulf” — all of them great works written just as much to tell a story as to be memorable when spoken.

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Without the form of past poetry — coupled with the strict and silent rigor of poetic study in academia — poetry has had its soul slowly sucked out and its husk of a body entombed within the ivory tomes of academia.

Thankfully, the oral tradition has been reborn in the art of rap and hip-hop. There the standards of rhythm and rhyme are maintained, and the craft of the sound of words thrives. Poetry may be dead, but at least its soul lives on.

Hamilton Reed is a senior computer science major. His columns appear Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.