The Twenty-first Century

In the later 20th century and early 21st, it has become perfectly possible to eschew modern poetry altogether and feel little shame. Innumerable fine poets such as Simon Armitage and Edwin Morgan simultaneously achieve recognition but condemn themselves by allowing their poems to be anthologized for teenage exams. Poetry has become a matter for study only, and volumes sell in the low thousands at best unless written by the dead or by our sole remaining public poet of any dignity and ambition: Seamus Heaney. Indeed, poetry books make up only 3 of all book sales in England. The lover of verse is best advised to seek the voices set to popular music such as Tom Waits, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen (an exceptional poet before and during his songwriting), Bob Dylan and Nick Cave. We might blame the lack of recent whole-world conflict or fear of God for our poetic decline and look to those shaken by political turmoil for inspiration. In fact, the Anglo-centrism of ‘classic’ poetry – thoroughly endorsed, unfortunately but inevitably, by this brief guide through poetry in English – has ensured that after exploiting oppression, repressed sexuality, bigotry and finally indulging in experimental poetry, we must now listen to those with something to say (American poets such as Ai and Sonia Sanchez spring to mind). This is neither a call to arms nor a declaration of the end of poetry, merely a promise that white male middle-class poetry will now have competition from the other billions of voices that make up the world and can now shout eloquently with a chance of being heard.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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