Thursday, April 22, 2010

On Poetry and Dada poems

Obviously I’ve been thinking about poetry a lot this month. I haven’t been this immersed in the form since college and I’ve found it, surprisingly, rather pleasant. I even find myself reaching for poetry anthologies at odd moments and reading Thomas Gray and William Blake instead of Theodore Roethke and Federico Garcia Lorca. So the immersion in all this poetry, along with analysis of form, has led to me to a crucial question:

Where has the poetry gone?

Poetry and literature used to be the stuff of life. Now, reading at all feels like an accomplishment, despite the fact that we live in the most word-prolific age in human history. Email, test messages, advertising, we’re reading all the time. No longer are words locked up in some musty monk guarded library word-hoard, but rather than embrace the words, we scoff at them.

In the course of my researching various forms for poetry month, I stumbled across the link between song and poetry over and over again. And I can’t help but muse on how music remains so popular, so piped into our heads 24/7, while poetry has faded in the hands of a select few. Taking that thought one step further and looking at the social aspects of music, everyone can quote a line or two from a song, making reference to it, and then share a bond with the other person who recognizes the song. Who intentionally quotes poetry? Where is the social aspect of poetry now? And I can’t help but think that’s the entire problem. Poetry went from being an active, interactive, social, communal affair, in recitals and concerts or readings, to drawing the eyes downward, down onto the page, isolating the words in the mind of the reader and slowly taking the reader away from society to focus on those verses, rather than keep them active among friends and peers. I’ve heard some Shakespeare scholars argue that reading the plays is actually quite tedious and not a very fun away to experience Shakespeare. And he’s the master of language! But, language is meant to be heard, not just observed frozen and stilted on the page. Somehow I feel much is the same with other kinds of poetry, the words are meant to be shared, not help alone in a private word-hoard.

So what is the solution? Poetry will probably never hold the same place in society as it once did, but how can we as individuals change poetic image for the modern day? Three things, in my non-poet opinion.

1) Poetry slams and readings. Get out there, share your work, listen to the work of others. Inspire each other, help each other. Have fun. Make poetry social again.

2) Give poetry a new image. Yeah, Keats and Donne and Shakespeare have their place but they wrote for audiences. They wrote to make money. So does Stephen King and Nora Roberts. Write what you like but write for the audience. Write about modern issues, not just romantic nature poems. We have enough of those. Write about the economy or a Democratic government. Poets are the voice. Use yours.

3) Read poetry. Write poetry. If you have an interest in poetry, work to make it a part of your life.

So, speaking of form, here’s one for today. Dada poetry dates back to World War I, bringing poetry and visual arts together as an anti-bourgeois, anti-war, and anarchistic movement. Dada poetry was performed at rallies, public gatherings, in literary journals, etc. It was a public form of expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo. /http://en.wikipedia.orgwiki/Dada

A Dada poem is made in three steps. First, cut words or blocks of words from magazines or other printed materials. Second, mix them together in a hat, bowl, or just scatter them across the floor. Third, randomly select the pieces and, in order of selection, lay them out on a page. Don’t change the order, but feel free to arrange line breaks and punctuation as you go. Sense is not the name of the game here and the results probably won’t make sense. The original intent of the Dada movement was to illustrate the chaos and meaninglessness of everyday life. For a cool Dada generator, go here:

Here’s a few more resources on Dada poetry. Enjoy!


Rowenna said...

In a weird way, I love Dada. We studied the movement in a class of mine in college, and the prof asked what Dada was about during a review session. Some pseudo-intelligentsia type replied "the ritualistic cleansing of 19th century academia" to which the prof nodded kindly, then called on someone else, who replied "Nothing." Which is a great answer!

Of course "Ritualistic Cleansing of Nineteenth Century Acadamia" became an instant catchphrase with my geeky friends. Just add hoity-toity accent.