My belief has always been that those with greater means and opportunity are obligated to do what they can to help those less well-endowed. Parents are obliged to feed, shelter, and instruct their children, for example.
Beyond this, each of us lives in and benefits from the society around us. Our legal systems, housing complexes, roads, fire departments, book clubs, temples, elected officials and so on are in place to protect us from the mercilessly impartial brutality of nature as well as to nurture our gregarious mammalian instinctual drives.
Since every one of us has a room in this great matchstick house, isn’t it up to each of us to occasionally throw a bucket of water to keep it from going up in flames?
There’s a lot of talk about polarization these days, but atomization is perhaps a more apt analogy. A polarized society might have clear lines drawn between a minimal number of antagonistic forces. But when the old clear affiliations (political right and left, for instance) are riven and striated by countless ancillary disputes, the result resembles nothing so much as disintegration.
Is even poetry in such a splintered state? In a recent Guardian article, a couple of prominent British writers denounced the state of poetry today, citing a perceived lack of craftsmanship amongst other alleged deficiencies. Robin Robertson says that “the world of poetry is small and currently polarised.”
While the rise of “Instagram poets” may fail to elevate the art and craft of poetry beyond the most maudlin greeting card cliches, we might ask the well-known and successful writers quoted in the linked article, “is such critique at all necessary?” Rather than support for those on the margins and with less means and opportunity, rather than a not-all-that-difficult attempt at unity within this facet of the broader culture, is further division what the world needs?
Even if answered affirmatively, it makes little difference. The role of a bard in society is to map the inner geography. The poet is the cartographer of the soul.
In the love relationship between poet and poetry, the former is the beloved, the one wanted, the quarry, while the latter is the lover, the huntress, an invisible force of nature made manifest through the human animal’s unique capacity for speech. Poetry will not be corralled or controlled by our wishes or expectations or standards. Its locomotion is as free as the kestrel’s.
Poetry is animal nature, it is biosphere, it is weather system. You don’t just walk up to poetry and introduce yourself. It envelops you. It surrounds you entirely and constricts you in its tentacles until your entire life consists of non-sequitur and mixed metaphor.
It ultimately doesn’t matter what anyone says about contemporary poets or their work because the force of its desire for incarnation is irrepressible. The sheer futility of any academic attempt to repress the voices of the oppressed renders moot the question of whether their savaging of contemporary poetic work is necessary.
Poetry reflects the condition of the human soul. It can’t always conform to iambs and rhyming couplets, and although such musicality provides much enjoyment, it’s not always necessary.