James H Duncan The Closed Circuit of Poetry Turning words into comfort, weapons, and the most widely embraced artform of our time. During many of the most recent political shifts toward conservative nationalism, be it in Europe or in America, I have heard the call that artists must take up the mantle and create, that this must become a period of renewed drive, and that poetry, among the many arts we need now more than ever, will lead the way back to brighter times. I have my doubts. Certainly not about the power of poetry to provide solace in trying times or to lift the veil on hypocrites and racists. Instead I worry about poetry’s ability to do so in an effective manner. I should add that my doubts do not stand in defiance of trying, but if we’re going to turn our art into tools of comfort for allies and into useful weapons against oppressors, we’d better make damn sure we’re not working inside an echo chamber. I would argue that this has become a problem in every area of modernized society. Social media platforms and apps use metrics to narrow down what news we see, what advertisements appear before us, what books and pages they suggest, and so on. In digital life and in reality, we whittle away friend lists and acquaintances so we only interact with those whom we agree. Too many monitor only those news sources that align with what we’d like to hear about our world. We hear ourselves shouting into the void and the returning sound is a pleasing echo, and yet we are shocked in rare moments— and often important moments—to find that this echo does not match the reality that surrounds us. Poets, I fear, have long fallen victim. This is not a condemnation of poetry or poets, our work and our art is vital, but we have fallen into this same echo-chamber reality that haunts us in every other aspect of our lives. There are more poets and editors and publications and presses than ever before—this is a good thing. But I would argue that poetry is a very incestuous artform. Unlike acting, painting, or music, our creations are primarily read and heard by those who also create poetry. Not exclusively, but too often the poetry community feels like it’s found within a closed circuit. Readers of publications are often writers. Audiences at readings are often writers. I’d loved to be proven wrong, but I fear I’m correct. Few who do not write poetry have any interest in it or any knowledge about its continued existence. This, I insist, is the very practical basis of my doubt in poetry’s ability to become the force it could be. This leads me to ask me what we can do, all of us, writers and publishers alike, to make poetry a wider, greater force that is also an inclusive force. We must open our midnight carnival tent, turn on the bright lights, and welcome the locals to our outskirt field and barker them inside where they might discover that poetry does, in fact, have something to say and can change our world in meaningful, impactful, and practical ways. We must work to bring in those who wouldn’t even glance at the Poetry section of Barnes & Noble, much less enter a Barnes & Noble in the first place.
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