In 1992, “Can poetry Matter?” set off a firestorm of discussion about poetry and its value to the larger society.
Dana Gioia’s essay, even today, contains passages that raise my hackles; I find portions of his argument anti-democratic and otherwise flawed.
This said, there are ideas in the essay that are compelling and right-minded. Though few in 1992 could have foreseen the powerful and game-changing influence the internet would have on poetry production and distribution, and though in retrospect, Gioia’s call for “poets and arts administrators “[to] use radio to expand the art’s audience” now seems quaint, he was on to something. His argument for radio as a medium well-suited for poetry, brought into our contemporary arena, might easily be read as an argument for the internet as such a site for poetry’s dissemination. He argues that “[p]oetry is an aural medium, and thus ideally suited to radio.” As we now know, the internet can offer a reader both the text of a poem and its author’s voice. He also maintains that “[m]ixing poetry with music on classical and jazz stations or creating innovative talk-radio formats could reestablish a direct relationship between poetry and the general audience.” Once again, the internet exceeds that possibility; several online poetry interview shows now exist, as do a number of online journals that include interviews with poets in video format.
The reason I’ve decided to serve as an editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, simply put, is because the journal aims to provide the things Gioia called for back in 1992, and much more. Poetry will take its place alongside prose, music, dance, food and wine, visual art, spoken word and, hopefully, things we’ve not thought of yet. The poems in this month’s Congeries, as it will be for those that follow, stand at the same time alone, juxtaposed to one another, and in relationship to the issue’s various non-poetry content, both visual and aural. It’s what these juxtapositions may yield in the minds of active readers that makes poetry matter.