by Gabriel Valdez
You’ll find a hand-wringing every year that poetry is dying. In the Atlantic, in Newsweek, in the New Yorker, in many good, strong, aware publications, in academic circles, for publishers, poetry is breathing its last breaths. Fewer people read it than ever before, for as long as readership has been polled.
Yet how many people come across a Rupi Kaur poem on Instagram or Facebook? Well that’s not poetry, we’re told, not really. So when they answer that poll, do people remember that they have read poems?
If we listen to poems on YouTube or see one performed, we haven’t read a poem. But it still has the same impact on us. We may not pick up the books the same way, but we still seek it out. We listen to poetry more than ever before. But that’s not reading poetry, we’re told.
Music is more ever-present in our lives than ever before, and lyrics are musical poetry. Many of the same people who will tell you that music can’t be poetry will insist tooth and nail that the greatest poet of our time is Bob Dylan.
Rap is an evolution of many of poetry’s fundamentals, but because it’s not owned or monetized by the groups invested in “What poetry really is,” we’re told it’s not really poetry. It should be looked down on as something lesser instead of looked up at with reverence.
Are there bad poems on Instagram, or YouTube? Is there bad music and rap? Absolutely. But there’s always been bad poetry. What’s new is the accessibility and diversity of good poetry.
Poetry is more accessible than ever before. Take Kate Hao’s searing “In Which Every Poem that I Write Becomes a Poem About My Body.”
This would be stunning on page, but as performance it’s unparalleled. It’s shocking and traumatic, and most importantly, its deeply, hauntingly honest.
Look at any other era and a few dozen people may have heard this poem. When else could an Asian-American poet, a woman Asian-American poet like Kate Hao be heard by tens of thousands? When else could a brutally honest poem about impostor syndrome and trauma, and possibly sexual assault and racism, be communicated 140,000 times?
Poetry is very much alive, and more diverse than ever, and more vital than ever. They say it’s dying; I say it’s never had so much lifeblood. It can say much more, it can break the cage of “What poetry really is,” and performance this accessible and challenging can make more of us hear it and feel it like rarely before.
Poetry isn’t dying. It’s simply changed, and for all this age’s other problems, I’m dearly thankful to live in an era where poetry is becoming something very different, easier to access, and more diverse.
Content Warning: impostor syndrome, sexual assault, racism
The feature image quoting Kate Hao’s “In Which Every Poem that I Write Becomes a Poem About My Body” is a cropped version taken from Button Poetry’s Twitter post here. Button Poetry features many superb poets with new voices, and I highly recommend following their Twitter and YouTube channel, which features the performance above.