Poetry and the challenges! writes Alok Mishra

rise and fall of poetry

The poetry is not dead (yet) and it will not die (so soon). We have always known about the poets, writing in English or any other languages, who have been through poverty and remained so in some of the cases. Coleridge, Edgar Allan Poe, William Blake, Oscar Wilde, and even John Keats… the list might be longer or shorter depending on the depth of literary penetration. One thing remains certain that poets needed not only the appreciation of the readers but also the financial support to survive in order to compose poems. With time, when we thought we have become modernists and the world has come in an age of plentitude, the poets did not have enough even then! And today, the world has become economically sound, as the experts say; and we see it too when we pay $10 for a ‘good’ cup of coffee. Still, do the poets have that support? Do the readers show interest in buying their compositions? Do the publishers accept their works for publication?

The plight of the poets has always been there. With the rise of the novel genre, poetry began seeing the dusk of its golden days and the sparks (before it faded) were seen in the forms of Eliot and Auden and later, the likes of Larkin and Plath and Hughes and then it settled down without making any major noise. Today, though we have so many poets struggling for recognition and ‘sales,’ we hardly find the readers who read poetry; they do appreciate poetry but they don’t prefer ‘buying’ it from the bookstores and ‘supporting’ the poets. I am not saying they should buy it or they must buy it; however, without that actual support, poets are everything but helpless and also (eventually) hopeless! This trend, moreover, is worldwide!

In India, the reputed publishers hardly publish any poetry these days and those who publish (who won’t if the poets pay themselves) hardly promote the poetry books because somewhere the publishers know that the taste of readers in terms of poetry has either completely become a dried reservoir or a big sea on the verge of extinction! They won’t gamble on a poet unless the poet is Vikram Seth or some well-known person who hardly knows poetry – then, what a person with much poetry and less money will do? From where will he bring 3,000 or so guaranteed purchases of his copies once published to satisfy the publishers’ demands?

Poetry has not only been a noble man’s profession now; it has become a rich man’s profession too! (Women too.) And from the reader’s point of view, the increasing prices of the books have also been a trouble. An anthology from a reputed poet published by a well-to-do publisher won’t cost anything lesser than 500 or 600 Indian rupees and believe me, no poetry enthusiast will spend that much for a copy! So, it can safely be said that while the world has become economically sound, it has certainly become poetically callous and readership of poetry has gone down.

I hope 2018 will see a better year in the terms of poetry and we will have more to read and more to write for. Except for some flashes, like every other year, poetry was trailing behind the ‘thrill’ of the novels which entertain the readers certainly more than poetry, because poetry, be it anything, is always rendering a reader more towards abstract thinking than pumping blood in the pleasure veins!