Is Poetry Dead? Please say it isn't so!

At least once a month my husband and I spend a morning in Barnes and Noble sipping coffee and exploring. He will browse art magazines and cookbooks while I explore books based on my current topic of interest.

On Sunday we spent just such a morning. When we got to Barnes and Noble soft music was playing, just right for reading, but it soon morphed into something more popular and downright annoying. I want classical or smooth jazz and preferably instrumental when I'm reading. I would also prefer the absence of other people's conversations but it is a public place after all and I have to adjust.

At various times my focus has been art magazines and books, literary journals, self-help books, inspirational musings or sometimes health and cookbooks. I always spend some time among the shelves of fiction looking for a new author or one of my favorite author's latest release to add to my ever growing pile of fiction. Sometimes my focus is on writing and that may include novels, memoir, short stories or poetry. This particular visit was focused on poetry.

There were new books by Marie Howe, Billy Collins and Philip Levine to look at. I was also browsing for new poets to get to know and maybe even find a book about writing poetry but alas poetry has been relegated to a small space.

April is National Poetry Month but apparently Barnes and Noble did not get that memo. It was not advertised and none of the new poetry collections were highlighted. In fact the poetry section of this particular store is hidden in a back corner behind children's toys. It is not part of the literature section as it is in other branches of B and N. And it is small and wanting. There are few if any collections by the likes of David Whyte, Marie Howe, Sharon Olds or other well known poets of our times. And the books that are there are out of order though the little metal label on the shelf says "in alphabetical order." I managed to find two of the books I wanted--"My Lost Poets" by Philip Levine and "The Rain in Portugal" by Billy Collins but I was frustrated and annoyed at the slim pickings offered.

It occurred to me though that perhaps poetry is dead. Well it surely isn't for me or for the other new poets out there squeezing poems from their veins and trying to get published and known. But it's reign seems somewhat diminished and that disturbs me.

How can we raise poetry to the level it should be? How can we advertise and increase its importance?

There are poems of love and protest, grief and longing, birth and death. Each line of poetry written not only displays the poet with her heart and soul wide open but helps her heal, helps her have a voice, helps her reach out and touch other human life forms. We need to send this message out to young people, students and teachers, seniors and scholars.

Bring poetry back to the classroom but make it real not a chore. Study the newer poets and the accessible poets. Billy Collins and Philip Levine who write of everyday man and his struggle for life worth living. David Whyte and Mark Nepo who touch the soul with words that open you up to the world. Mary Oliver who will show you all the life there is on this earth and teach you to notice it, be astonished by it and respect it.

The world needs poetry now more than ever. Pull it out of the darkness, out of the corner of the store behind the bright colored toys and for heaven's sake, if you are a book store, at least give a little sign that you are aware it is National Poetry Month.


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