Cover of Mature Themes by Andrew Durbin (Nightboat Books, 2014) featuring image of Alex Da Corte (with Sean FitzGerald), “Body Without Organs,” 2013.
Last September, to a standing room-only crowd in the auditorium of The New Museum, Andrew Durbin launched Mature Themes, his latest collection of essayistic poems. Then, a few weeks later in the basement of groovy Tribeca non-profit gallery Artists Space, Cecilia Corrigan fêted her prize-winning collection Titanic with a series of performances by artists Macy Rodman and Juiceboxxx. It was also the year Claudia Rankine’s Citizen came out. A National Book Award finalist, it responded to the physical and psychological acts of racism currently pounding in our collective consciousness. The book was not just prescient, but overdue, considering the cultural acceleration of feminism and the politics of representation.
But things didn’t stop there. This past January, Rob Lowe went on Conan and read James Franco poems to a national television audience. And Lena Dunham has recently taken to Instagramming favorite collections of poetry (including Mira Gonzalez’s small press success i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together), many of which she acquired while touring the United States in support of her own memoir. She even had poet Jenny Zhang join her on the bill when she made her tour stop in Iowa City.
Could it be true? Dare we even say it? Is poetry back as a relevant cultural genre?
Some would say the Internet has shifted our collective attention spans, predisposing us to enjoy, once again, the density and brevity of verse. Indeed, Steve Roggenbuck has been posting motivational poems on YouTube for years, and his high click-counts don’t lie — nor does his inclusion in this year’s New Museum Triennial. Last year he took part in an exhibition called “’89plus / Poetry will be made by all!” in Zurich, Switzerland. Co-curated by Simon Castets of New York’s Swiss Institute and Hans Ulrich Obrist, curator at London’s Serpentine Gallery, the event highlighted another emerging trend: Gallery curators working with and supporting poets. Of Andrew Durbin’s work, Obrist said in the Los Angeles Times, “It’s quite addictive. And it’s just as addictive to listen to. It’s like he takes us on a trip, through high and low, through the experimental. He’s current, but he’s very aware of history.”
Like those wines that taste great when bottled but go dead for several years and then magically revive, poetry is something we didn’t need for a while, but do now. Look at this poem called “Reading is Fundamental” by Harry Burke, another Obrist favorite:
Roses are read
I’m like, Fuck roses
roses not like you
Roses are dead.
Love is like, that’s what I said.
I’m like, loll biitch fucku
Love’s like, why
And I’m like„, theres clouds
in the sky.
Then love is like: Hi. Bye.
i’m like lol ok goodbye
Or check out the online literary journal Shabby Dollhouse, which just released a tremendous issue featuring over 40 self-identifying women poets. Ana Carrete, a poet from Mexico currently living in Austin, is a standout. Her poems are incisive and funny, pleasurable because they don’t try too hard to be as good as they are:
“dealing with feelings”
you know that meme
and then sunglasses fall from
and land on a face well
sunglasses never fall from the
and land on my face
so i can’t
deal with it
Maybe our problems need old genres to think them through; maybe the zeitgeist inclines us toward verse more than it has in many years. Or maybe we have been so inclined always — it’s simply our social feeds and second screens that have brought poets and us together again.