Our daily newspapers are full of poetry. On average, 16 articles a week appear in Australian papers with the word poetry somewhere in the article. ‘Wow!’ I hear you say, but don’t get excited too soon! Only two of these articles ever have anything to do with actual poetry. The other 14 are about sport, music and business. In fact, almost every subject you can think of – except poetry.
Who is writing about poetry? Almost no one
Being an enthusiastic poet, and wanting to source as much information as possible about what is happening in the world of Australian poetry, I signed up to all the major online Australian newspapers to get their articles on poetry. I used the news story email alert function that most offer; try finding these articles in an actual newspaper! Interestingly enough, while the Google alerts I signed up to using the word poetry yielded almost only poetry – about 15 articles a day from around the globe, though mainly North American – from the Australian email alerts I received many articles, but few about poetry. It was almost a direct opposite to Google in fact. 10% of the articles from the Australian alerts were on actual poetry, while it was 90% with Google’s international results.
Sports stories were the majority of articles I received from the Australian alerts. Why? Because of that much-abused phrase of ‘poetry in motion’. Most of these articles were describing the sublime efforts of our nation’s sporting people. The other most popular hits were articles with the phrase ‘poetic justice’; these were mainly crime and political stories. It seems almost a prerequisite for sports journalists, that when searching for a word to describe something as effortless or unique, they always fall back on the word poetry. You’d think that with the suggested ever-declining readership of poetry that over the years the word poetry would also fall out of use. It appears that it is our newspapers that are keeping the word poetry alive.
Is poetry even still alive?
The idea of what poetry is still seems to be alive, then, but for the most part, the word poetry is seen and heard in a sporting vernacular, not in the artistic – at least in Australia. How did it happen that the word poetry got to be about everything but poetry? Maybe poetry has found its level for our time. Not long ago Harold Stewart, Australian poet and co-author of the infamous Ern Malley affair said, “ours is an anti–poetic age”. This appears to be even truer today.
We all know, however, that since the birth of the internet, there has been a groundswell in poetry. With all the writing communities, magazines, lists and general discussions about poetry, sometimes you’d think that this was all that happens on the internet. So why have publishers dropped poetry off their lists? Don’t they see all this action online? If people aren’t buying poetry books, what’s all this poetry stuff happening online? Why hasn’t the amount of interest there is in poetry on the internet led to an increase in the production of poetry books? Instead, poetry seems increasingly confined to the internet rather than the mainstream media – except when invoked by lazy sports journalists.
Come back poetry, from wherever you are
How do we change this, and wrestle back the ownership of the word poetry to its rightful domain? I’d suggest that us poets (pretty good writers that we are) start submitting articles on the state of poetry in Australia to our nation’s papers. Write reviews on a poetry performance, a book, or an event and get it into your local paper. There’s a great community of poets out there writing, doing incredible stuff and no one knows about it. If we want more people to read about what’s happening with Australian poetry, it’s up to us to help get it out there, perhaps even start our own poetry newspaper!
Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net