Poetry is Alive and Well

By Silvia Castegini (Liceo Ginnasio Scipione Maffei)

Nowadays it is believed that poetry is fading, or dead.
According to the research I have done my understanding is that this is not the case.
So where have the poets ended up?
For centuries poets used their pens and their voices to protest loudly against society, war, injustice, or simply to express themselves.
You could argue that actually we no longer need poetry to protest. Words are not as powerful as they once were. This era of social media has already changed the way we approach literature and the world of books.

Music, however, is something we are used to listening to every day: every time we enter the car, while we’re cooking, while we’re having a shower, and walking down the street.
Don’t music and poetry have the same origins? Upon reading texts from antiquity, we realise that poetry and music went together. What has happened is that over time poetry and music have become more independent from each other. Not totally independent, however! Many singers and composers draw their inspiration for their songs or their compositions from poetry, and some of them are poets themselves.

-Lana Del Rey’s “Body Electric” was inspired by Whitman’s “I Sing The Body Electric”
-In “Overgrown” James Blake refers to Emily Dickinson “All overgrown by cunning moss”
-Hozier’s “Like Real People Do” was inspired by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney
– The inspiration for “I Wanna Be Yours” came to the Arctic Monkeys by way of John Cooper Clarke’s poem of the same name.

lana-del-rey-big-eyes

All this means that music has replaced poetry somehow, but poets still exist.
The Guardian has recently reported a study carried out by Alison Flood about the current phenomenon of teen poetry.
She ascertained that more than 20,000 teenagers write poems on the social reading website Wattpad, and over 100,000 actively read Wattpad’s poems.
If you talk to publishers or booksellers about poetry you’ll probably hear the same refrain:
“Young people are not interested in selling the poems they write, and not even in buying books”.

According to Abby Meyer, a 14-year-old writer on Wattpad, “Many teenagers can be afraid to show their emotions to people close to them. I know that I was initially very nervous about showing my poetry to my family, for fear that it wasn’t good enough, but with an account online, anyone can post poetry, and let out emotions that they don’t want others to know about. On the internet, the only people who are going to read it are strangers, and it doesn’t matter so much what they think.”

As a teen writer I totally agree with Meyer; it’s not about not having an interest in buying or selling, it’s about an interest in reading and showing your own emotions.
I publish my poems and my stories online, but i’m not interested in showing them to the people I know.
A poem is something that writers compose first of all for themselves. They might then decide to show their stories to people they know.
Only my 2 best friends have read all of my poems. My parents have read just one.

But why do teenagers write more poems in comparison to adults?
Teenagers are the new generation, which means they describe (like most poets do) their vision of the world.
Teenagers see the world more realistically than their parents used to do when they were teens.
In a world with no secrets, where the Internet reveals everything, the reputation of teens depends significantly on what other people think about them. It is legitimate to think that teenagers write poems to build their own world, with their own rules, where they can be themselves.
When people are asked why they read poetry they usually answer like Jane Hirshfield, author of seven books of poetry: “Poetry is a release of something previously unknown into the visible.”

When some singers were asked why they got inspired by poems to write their songs they answered by explaining what they meant to say with their songs.
Hozier told MTV News that “Like Real People Do” is about “somebody digging somebody up from the earth and falling in love with them”. James Blake explained his song’s meaning: “It’s not necessarily a human thing, as in, it’s not relating to me or to a person. ‘Overgrown’ is the post-apocalyptic state that you find yourself in mentally.”. Lana Del Rey has said several times that behind every song of hers there is a poem, and that she “once had dreams of becoming a beautiful poet”.

Though the genre of poetry has a rich history, the 1900s have seen some truly great poets and poetry, which have inspired most of current singers.
According to Ranker, the best poets of the 20th century are William Butler Yeats (Nobel Prize in Literature in the 1923), T. S. Eliot (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land) and Robert Frost (Pulitzer Prizes 1924, 1931, 1937, 1943). This list also includes Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.

uk-kerouac1

These writers have influenced a lot of my poetry’s style; I remember the first time I wrote a poem, I was sitting in the garden listening to “West Coast” by Lana Del Rey, I had just finished reading Howl, Allen Ginsberg’ best known poem and I suddenly grabbed a pen and started to write:

“Lana is playing on the radio
My skin burns
I think I’m losing my mind
You hipster Angel, you are destroying me
– Why aren’t you burning too, Lost Boy? –
Because I’m drowning in your love –
He says, setting me on fire
We’ll be in paradise my dear,
soon our eyes will be dried –
Lana keeps singing
we keep burning and drowning
‘Ooh baby, Ooh baby I’m in love’ ”

While I was writing this poem I didn’t know about the connection between Lana Del Rey and Allen Ginsberg, but a few weeks ago, looking for “Howl” on YouTube, I discovered that Lana made a short film called “Tropico”, based on the Biblical story of sin and redemption. In the middle of the film, she recites Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”, while a group of slimy businessmen party with strippers. That amazed me because, as I said, my poem had been inspired by both of them, so I felt very connected to her.

I interviewed two poets from Luiss University, Sriteja and Pietro, to know something about their opinion of poetry and their reason for writing. Here’s the video.

So, poetry has always existed, it exists now, but what will be her future?
In my opinion poetry is not going to die, in fact I think teens are going to write even more than now, because the world is becoming more explicit. There will be nothing that teens don’t know, but of course they’ll want their own place, their private place, a world where they’ll be able to be themselves.
And poetry is the best place to escape this world and make your own.

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