Perusing a local-paper poetry-themed insert I came across the mention of a new essay by Tony Hoagland called "Twenty Little Poems that Could Save America" from Harpers magazine: http://harpers.org/blog/2013/04/twenty-little-poems-that-could-save-america/
I support the idea of revamping the way we teach poetry in secondary schools and in college. Poetry has slipped outside of mainstream culture and there are many reasons for this. Baby steps back may involve rethinking the cirriculum, something many forward-thinking teachers are already doing. Hoagland wants to use more contemporary poetry and has created a list of poems he believes "the kids today" can relate to.
I anticipate resistance to this idea (so does Hoagland) and I think it goes back to poets worrying that their favorite poems will be lost forever. This fear actually hides another bigger very secret fear that someday their own (future famous) poems might also be judged out-of-date, old fashioned, or just not modern enough and therefore doomed to be forgotten as the new poems and poets continually roll in and take over. Perinneals entombed in concrete will prevent this slippage.
But Hoagland loses me when he goes off on pop culture. In the beginning he says "Culture is always reanimating itself" and then goes on to say celebrity culture is "a kind of fake surrogate for the culturally significant place gods and myth once held in the collective imagination....just as junk food mimics nutritious food, fake culture [fake culture??] mimics and displaces the position of real myth. [Real myth???] Real culture cultivate our ability to see, feel and think. It is empowering. Fake culture [again, fake culture??] makes us passive, materialistic and tranced-out."
First of all, obviously mainstream movies and music can cultivate our ability to see, feel and thik and are also empowering and can encourage us to be active and not passive. To argue otherwise is to be willfully ignorant. Not to mention there is no such think as an unreal or fake culture. Culture is what it is. Football, Kim Kardashian, violent video games, expensive cars and shoes...that's the culture now. Like it or don't like it. What you think of the prevaling culture is irrelevant. It reanimates regardless of the judgements on it from you or me.
But then Hoagland goes on to appreciate Glengarry Glen Ross and Citizen Kane. The thing is, nobody can be the judge of what is is specifically that moves someone else. It's not fake. It's just not your thing.
Anyway, we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. This essay continues the ongoing conversation about the role of art in schools and how we can better teach an appreciation of poetry.
I'm sure it will elicit many petty 20-poem list wars among poets battling it out for supremacy. But for those of us on the ground, a good weekend reading list if nothing else.