I just finished reading a provocative essay in the September issue of Poetry titled, American Poetry in the New Century calling for a "new" poetry. I've highlighted some of it for your edification below, which I think you'll find quite interesting. What are you all waiting for dear poets, time to get busy and change the world! Feel free to post your thoughts to any aspect of it!
"Poetry in this country is ready for something new. We are at the start of a century, and that, in the past, has marked new beginnings for the art. Pound and Eliot launched modernism in the opening years of the 20th century...and in the opening years of the 19th, 1802 to be exact, Wordsworth launched poetry's Romantic era with the 2nd edition of Lyrical Ballads. (...The early year of the 17th and 18th centuries did not mark new departures for English poetry. And American poetry found its true beginnings in Whitman and Dickinson...)
A new poetry becomes necessary not because we want one, but because the way poets have learned to write no longer captures the way things are, how things have changed. Reality outgrows the art form: the art form is no longer equal to the reality around it.
The need for something new is evident. Contemporary poetry's striking absence from the public dialogues of our day, from the high school classroom, from bookstores, and from mainstream media, is evidence of a people in whose mind poetry is missing and unmissed. A century ago our newpapers commonly ran poems in their pages: fifty years ago the larger papers regularly reviewd new book of poetry.
The place to look for the next poetry is probably not where your might look first. Modernism was born amid an upheaval in writing that was heavily technical: Pound's Imagism and Vorticism, Gertrude Stein's automatic writing, Eliot's free verse and collage. It would be naturalto look for the next poetry to emerge from other kids of experimental poetry. But this has been tried, and the innovations that followed those of Morderism...have not carried the art form with them.
My own experience with MFA programs, having taught in one, is that they can make of a writer a better writer. "Better" in this case means more knowledgable in the traditions and the contemporary scope of the art, more accomplished in the craft of writing, more aware of the numbus of critical commentary which surrounds and to some extent drives the art. That's the good news...At the same time, these programs carry pressures to sucumb to the intimidations implicit in a climate of careerism. They operate on a network of academic postings and prizes that reinforce the status quo. They are sustained by a system of fellowships, grants, and other subsidies that absolve recipients of the responsibility to write books that a reader who is not a specialist might enjoy, might even buy.
The MFA experienec can confuse the writing of poetry, as a career, with the writing of a poem as a need or impulse. Writing a poem is a fiercely independent act....Will the next Walt Whitman be an MFA graduate? Somehow it seems hard to imagine.
No major American poet has come from the academic world...(he lists among them Wallace Carlose Williams, Eliot who worked for a time at Lloyd's Bank, and Wallace Stevens) It is commonplace among creative writers that we should write what we know, but Hemingway took that a step further by seeking out fresh experience in the service of his writing...He sought to live more in order to writer better. That's not to say that one has to be chased around Pamplona by bulls to gain experience. It could be something as slight as the difference between the poem one might get from a poet strolling past a construction site versus the poem on might get from the poet who is pouring concrete. Either could produce the better poem, of course, but the latter's will be more deeply informed by experience. "To change your language," as Derek Walcott says, "you must change your life.
I personally don't know many who would think to cross the street, let alone do what Hemingway did, in the hopes of getting a poem out of it. Rather it is the unconscious habit of poets to wait for the poem to come to them. (In the words of a poet friend, "You don't choose the poem, the poem choose you.")...the point rather is that poets today don't seem to be aware that what they write will be influence by how they live.
At this point it is perfectly reasonable to ask that the public bear some responsibility for the plight of contemporary poetry. Our culture conspires to deny us our privacy, the quiet time it takes to read a poem. But I don't agree. The human mind is a marketplace, especially when it comes to selecting one's entertainment. Elizabethan theatergoers always had the option to go watch bearbaiting instead of one of Shakespeare's plays...
Poetry needs to find it's public again, and address it. Poets can help accomplish this by bearing in mind the influences of how they live on what they write, and of what they write on how their readers live. They can rethink the traditional oppositions both within poetry (as they have done with formal verse vs. free) and between poetry and the rest of the world. They can revisit inherited atitudes regarding art for art's sake, art as therapy, and lyric poetry as the only kind of poetry. The can, like the first Impressionist painters, embrace the importance of being wrong in the eyes of the status quo---and thereby take back poetry's given ground....
Groundbreaking new art comes when artists make a changed assumption about their relationship to their audience, talk to their readers in a new way, and assume they will understand. When Melville wrote, "Call me Ishmael"; when Whitman wrote, "I celebrate myself and sing myself/and what I assume you shall assume"; when Baudelaire wrote "Hypocrite lecteur"; when Frost in the first poem of his book, said, "You come too": each seemed to make transforming assumptions about his audience. Their direct address was address made somehow more direct. It held, succeeded, and literature was changed."