So What If Poetry Is Dead?

The latest round of poetry-is-dead/no-it-isn’t (are we up to one-a-month yet?) kicked off with a silly article in The Washington Post responding to Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem. As might be expected, such a brightly silly piece flying in such a high visibility space proved an irresistible target. It was shot down again and again and again, but this discussion has surely not been had for the last time, so instead of entering of picking up my own bow and arrows, I want to step to the side and ask, if poetry is dead, so what?

Poetry being dead, if it can be discussed as if it might be dead now, does not mean that it has ceased to be, so we must be talking about an undead or a living dead poetry, and indeed, the article that catalyzed the latest cycle of this debate quotes the following tweet:

Mr Suilebhan, however, gets the implications of poetry being zombified wrong.

Zombies don't read poetry snail mail from deadmailart

Zombies don’t read poetry snail mail from deadmailart
Photograph by Todd Jordan

Let us think about zombies. They are insatiable; we associate them most readily with a taste for brains, but in most depictions, they will eat every body part they can grab; zombified poetry  takes up everything in its path and makes it part of itself (assimilates it—if you want to go cyborg-zombie, or, Borg). Zombies even devour and destroy the most powerful, if they are able (see Land of the Dead); I want poetry to do that at least as fearlessly. Zombies change the way you see even the most familiar things: in the zombie apocalypse, the world looks different. Ordinary things (even rhubarb pies) become weapons. When your loved ones are infected, learning to see them differently becomes a matter of survival. The most important poems have always been those that change the way you see the world and your place in it; that change is what poetry makes happen, and it is not a minor thing.

So go ahead and say that poetry is dead. Instead of telling you that you’re wrong, I’ll keep writing my texts that shamble on.

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