3/26/09

Fashion Poetics IV: "I Don't Get This Kind of Fashion"

Jennifer got back from Santa Fe, New Mexico on Monday. Getting back into our normal schedule of TV watching, last night I happened to watch a few minutes of that Bravo show "Make Me a Supermodel." Now, I tried watching a few episodes last season, and I hated it. I also don't like it much now, but I don't mind hanging out with my wife while she's working on her comprehensive exam question(s).

Last night though, I did catch something she said, and catch something on the screen at the same time: people dressed in strange wire type outfits (maybe it was a repeat? who knows). What caught my attention was Jennifer's statement: "I don't get this kind of fashion."

It made me think again about my on going thoughts on poetry and what fashion can teach us about poetry and what people generally seem to understand and not understand. This, again, comes down to the word "difficult": the wire outfits are no doubt difficult for myself and I imagine what must be the Bravo audience (guys waiting for baseball season to begin, maybe?).

A quick search of "most popular poet" (which I assumed would yield your Romantics) brought up a poll of Top 10 Poems, as polled by the Classic Poetry Aloud website. Be shocked that everyone but Kipling was dead before 1900 (Kipling dying in 1936) and that with the exception of a Shakespeare sonnet, everything else is 19th century (and the Kipling poem I suppose is 1910).

It seems strange to say this, but for most people, it seems poetry stopped existing as soon as they saw Prufrock or something! As if there was a collective throwing up of hands and shouting "I'm out!" and since that point, new poetry has existed as a counter-public, with the exceptions of your Collins's and Pinskies, who seem to be read as an example of what's out there currently. Otherwise, poetry exists in a little vacuum: we read, write, and publish for each other- our own incestous bubble. Contemporary poetry has been cast out of the main stream, it seems

I want to mention here that I don't think that's a problem with poetry or poets: it's the way we teach poetry in schools and beyond. We test kids to death on "sinews of the heart" from Blake, but exclude, until you're in a creative writing or contemporary poetry class at University level, anything particularly new. If you're lucky, you *might* get Plath or Ginsberg in high school text books. Of course you never get to it since teachers are busy with all sorts of other issues, including standardized tests, which make sure you're up on your Keats and Shelley.

So back to "getting it": it seems simple that the main issue is this idea that poetry and everything else ought to be understood and be able to be absorbed within the first reading. If we like, we can call this the "Soundbyte Effect" in which everything should be able to be ascertained within 3 to 5 seconds and the rest can be discarded for YouTube.

Poetry should function the same way, it seems. There ought to be understandable words and language. There ought to be a theme that's understandable immediately, hence the popularlity of love and war and death. There ought to be rhythm and meter because if there's not, why not write an essay? Lines ought to rhyme (slant rhymes acceptable).

Of course, this is all stupid: death is boring and so is love. Can you define love? How about defining a sandwich?

We've seen an evolved path in the 20th century (ok- so there are folks that were doing it before, but I mean a concrete "system") where in poetry is allowed to move beyond the restrictions of previous generations, and yet, it is this that seems to be enjoyed by a public who find "comfort" in Romanticism.

"Getting" poetry isn't necessarily something that's good: poetry, I feel, ought to be something you have to work out and yes, if you're looking for pleasure in poetry, perhaps you'd be better off sticking with people incredibly dead (not the recent folks, of course). If poetry should or ought to be relaxing to you, perhaps it's best to avoid modern poetry.

However, I believe writing and reading modern poetry is a challenge and ought to be challenging. There's a lot going on and life too is complex. Poetry ought to meet the complexities of modern life and the complexities of modern language and its usage.

So yeah, it sucks not "getting" a certain type of fashion. But maybe we're not supposed to "get" it. The goal is individualized and removed from objective measurement, though for some reason Make Me a Super Model seems to be running a show of objectivity.

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