What has typically been a form of literature reserved for students and artsy types has recently seen a striking growth in popularity. People have spent £12 million on poetry in the last year.
As we are living in a post-truth culture, it is hardly surprising that young people are turning away from words of fact and looking towards those of art. The poet’s humility is a refreshing change from the politician’s hubris. Where world-leaders are attempting to provide exhaustive clarity, poets can acknowledge the limitations of their own craft. A fantastic example of this is Carol Ann Duffy’s The Love Poem. The poem consistently quotes love poetry from across the ages to express the idea that there are some things that can never be put down in words. Even the attempt to render something as abstract as love in words diminishes its abstract quality.
So when tragedy hits nations, people do not want to hear an explanation or even an apology, we want to hear words that confess their own inadequacy to address the situation. As poems are historically part of the oral story-telling tradition, they are inherently communal. Both the listener and the orator were necessary for a poem to have any impact. Words are carefully chosen and attentively listened to. Conversely, director of the Forward Arts Foundation, Susannah Herbert, says that ‘language gets stale in politics. Words begin to lose their meaning. Poetry occupies a different space to the humdrum.’ While speeches from podiums turn people into observers of their own situation, poetry engages them in their surroundings.
When the search for nuanced words arrives at the same time as the explosion of online social media platforms, it is unsurprising that there are nearly 28 million posts just on Instagram with the hashtag ‘poetry’. The capacity for mass-communication is enormous, and so poetry is spreading beyond buying books, people can access it online. However, this raises an interesting question: does the mass production of a creative thing devalue it? Walter Benjamin argued that art should not be reproduced. A piece of art has an aura that is only a feature of the original work, reproductions of a work trivialise the beauty of the piece’s uniqueness. Does the same apply to poetry? By making poetry popular, has it lost its aura?
The uniqueness of a poem is in its universality. The fact that a set of words have the capacity to resonate so deeply with so many is powerful. The beauty of words is that their significance does not rely on font, size, shape, or colour. It is the poet’s arrangement of language that is compelling. And it is this quality that is beginning to satisfy young people’s search for answers.
Image: Charles Hackley via Flickr