Is poetry still relevant in the age of the ‘selfie’?

phantom poetry

Why do poets write the way they do? What sets them apart from the rest of humanity? They just seem to dwell on a different plane, loftier than those who articulate their thoughts in plain language. I think that poets write like, well, poets because they are; and they are because they couldn’t be any other.

I also think that poets are humans who live in ivory towers, glass-encased so they can see through and feel the pulse outside, as it were. They are different from John and Jane, in the sense that while John and Jane will see the world as it turns, poets see it in a grain of sand or in a flower’s slow blooming. Humanity is enriched with their gift of ‘speaking in tongues’, and that’s why they dwell on a loftier plane.

And then a question begs to be asked: Does poetry still have a place in this highly-visual world where it is easier to take a picture that, ahem, says a thousand words than to write a thousand words that no one might have the patience, let alone the attention span and empathy, to read? In the not too distant past, people wrote about their thoughts and memories on personal journals or diaries, and they kept those little notebooks in table drawers, away from prying eyes. Today, they let their hiccups and farts be known to the world through their so-called blogs and Facebook posts, sometimes ranting and raving, at times loathing and lusting, but mostly glorifying themselves. Egocentric venting? You bet.

But how does one distinguish self-centered writing from writing based on personal experience? Would writing about simple childhood longings be called plain nonsense, while writing about the universe and all its vastness is called profound? If I see a rainbow in all its bright colors in the sky and I write a poem about it, saying… ‘rainbows no longer amaze me, they’re just pale-colored lines across a listless sky that’s been from crying senseless tears’…does that make it egocentric because what I saw is the opposite of what I wrote?

‘I, me, myself’ is not in the same vein as ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, yet there’s a thin line that separates one from the other. As the word itself suggests, ego(centric) comes from self. Writing about personal experience is part of human existence. One human being is part of humanity, and if one doesn’t write about personal experience, what else is there to write about apart from the stars in heaven and the planets in the universe?

That is, to each their own perspective. I live in a square box with a round hole, and the universe might be too complex for me to sing paeans to. I mean, one can find profundity in a mustard seed, and claptrap in big, black holes. Intellectuality has little to do with it, more of looking at things and finding the right words to say.

However, vis-a-vis topic and emotion, self-obsession is entirely another matter. Still, there is a thin line that determines whether one has gone the way of personal aggrandizement or has stayed within the bounds of topical discourse without being overly emotional. I should know. I write mushy stuff.

And the ‘drivel’ that seems to proliferate these days which might be passed on to our children’s children – I say, drivel don’t last, as they are quickly consigned to oblivion even before their requisite 15 minutes are up. Then too, who’s to judge whether what one writes is gibberish or thoughtful? Again, I go back to the Dickinson experience. When is a body of work worth a treasure, and when is it better kept in chests and drawers?

If the reader identifies with the poem or understands what the poet is saying, even just a teeny weeny bit – I guess then the purpose has been served. What is poetry but a message presented in a manner slightly removed, as it were, from everyday lingo. The world would be nothing but noisy chatter if there were no poets to mold thought into words in ink that makes us, incessant noisemakers, stop to ponder and fall silent.

It is the reader who determines whether a poem, or any other piece of writing, is mere drivel or rare gem. The job of the poet, or the writer, is to create – and time will tell if what is created will end up in bookshelves or the trash bin. It all boils down to whether they are appreciated or not. People’s tastes change with the times, for better or worse, and maybe – just maybe – feeding the mind rather than the ego will win this dubious war of wasteful attrition.

So, yes, poetry in all its forms and meanings is still relevant in this age of me, myself and I.


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