I believe strongly in poetry. It has worked before, and it will work again. It is infused in the culture of every civilization. Whether it’s the Bible, the Odyssey, or Shakespeare, poetry has been extremely popular. Today poetry lacks the prestige it once held. There are no Robert Frosts in our time and age, let alone a William Shakespeare. But that will all change with one simple formula. Let me share the secret.
Give the people what they want. Note I didn’t say the editors, and I certainly didn’t say, other poets. I said the people meaning the masses, the everyday man or woman who make up America. In fact, poetry in the form of the musical song is both extremely popular and profitable.
A song lyric is a sub-genre of poetry. It has an extremely tight format. There are strict rhyming and rhythm patterns. Also, there is a chorus that features a hook. All of this is done with a small number of lines.
What we have today in the poetry world is poems written for other poets. I heard a friend say that poetry is the only genre with more writers than readers. Why is that? I believe that poetry has lost its way—the exact reasons why this is I do not at this time care to elaborate. But let me say it doesn’t matter how much education an engineer has if his invention is inferior to the man who never went to college. This principle applies to the world of poetry as well.
So what makes a great poem?
Number one, it has to communicate something. Why do so many people love the Beatles? I think the primary reason is that when they sing a song, people apply it to their personal life. That they recognize in the lyrics, a situation very similar to what they have faced in their lives. This is evident in how the crowd sings along, sometimes word for word with the performer. The lyrics aren’t archaic. Instead, the opposite is true; they are transparent; something is communicated.
Secondly, a poem must deliver something when it is read. That is, the language must tingle the ears in some pleasurable fashion. This is one of the primary differences between poetry and prose. Poetry is, or at least should be, the magical wording that entices the soul. Let’s go back to an expert, William Shakespeare. How did he accomplish his success? His poetry is written with strict rhythm and rhyme. We poets would do well to note that. Of course, his presentations are enhanced with drama, metaphors, and imagery. But primarily his words sing in a captivating way when uttered.
I went to the book store the other day and looked over the poetry section. As usual, it is tiny, especially when compared to the number of poetry books out there. I noticed an author I wasn’t familiar with and picked up the book. I read one poem and placed it back down. I got nothing out of the poem.
Poems need to make people cry. Poems need to make people laugh. Poems need to make people think. Poems need to define life and give the words that others are searching for. All this needs to be done in a way where the words entice the mind. We need someone like Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, T.S. Eliot, or Emily Dickinson. The community of poets needs to get back in touch with what poetry is really about.
And now, in conclusion, I will tell you why poetry is not as successful as it was. Writing the poetry I’m talking about takes a whole host of talent. Look at great songwriters and one would note that it is a very exclusive crowd. Am I saying no poets have ability today? Absolutely not! But they are developing themselves into writing in a complex format that by nature is cryptic. What they need is a K.I.S.S of keep it simple stupid.
With the world of publishing so wide open with self-publishing and small presses, a whole new generation of popular poets will arise. When I get a book review, and it says something to the effect of “I don’t like poetry, but I liked this book,” I smile and know I’ve done my job. It is only a matter of time until poetry books will once more be popular sellers.
–previously published on Writers and Authors
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John Kaniecki is a poet and prose writer with over a dozen books. His poetry has appeared in over one hundred outlets. John is a social justice and peace activist. John won the coveted Joe Hill Labor Poetry Prize with his poem “Tea With Joe Hill”. John’s beloved wife Sylvia is currently in a nursing home suffering from dementia. John resides in Montclair, New Jersey and spent ten years working in the inner city of Newark, New Jersey as a missionary with the Church of Christ at Chancellor Avenue. Being open with his bipolar disorder John is an advocate for those who suffer from mental illness. His memoirs More Than The Madness details his triumphant battle with the dark forces of the mind.