No critique of our culture would be complete without a statement about (read: indictment of) the decline of the role, status and utility of poetry.
Of all the major cultural shifts in the West’s transition from the premodern to the modern age, the diminution of Poetry is the one which has been almost totally neglected.
We read poems and promote their authors for a variety of reasons today, but poetry as an essential tool of cultural reproduction, mass entertainment and sacred communication is gone. The bards are gone (poet laureates may be seen as a substitute, but not really); epic poems are gone; versification competitions are gone; cryptic prophecy is gone.
Homer is asleep and the Homeridae are silent.
Our society is versed in all things, except verse.
Instead we have professional(ised) poets and poetry, published and unpublished verse and the general retreat of poetry into a narrow niche of highbrow literary activity.
Social, communal, liturgical poetry doesn’t exist anymore. Poems are personal, private, intimate, original. Their circulation is restricted and their social usefulness zero.
Poets used to be the curators of social memory. Now they are published authors and their works fill the backshelves of our book stores and public libraries. Readers go in search of poetry only occasionally, for beauty and personal testimony only.
In the marketplace of words and ideas, poetry has a stall facing the wall.