Is Anglo Poetry ‘Pointless’? Can It Learn from the Arabic?

No, it isn’t me who thinks Anglo poetry is “pointless”: It’s David Orr, poetry critic at the NYTimes.

Anis Shivani writes about Orr’s new book, Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern [English-language, cough] Poetry this week in the HuffPost. Shivani takes issue with the book’s maybe-yes, maybe-no lack of an impassioned view on poetry. In Shivani’s view:

I would have to say that the most important issue a critic could address with respect to contemporary [English language] poetry is why so much of it is unambitious–and this connects integrally with the lack of an audience for poetry.

But Anglo poetry is only unambitious and audience-lacking if we fail to consider its primarily oral forms. Arabic poetry, meanwhile, seems to be facing a divergence between the written and the oral. I realize I’ve chewed over this quote from critic Rasheed el-Enany before, but here it goes:

Poetry is becoming an increasing isolated genre and it’s a sad affair because 70 to 80 years ago, poetry was the genre of everyone. A new poem by Ahmed Shawky would be published on the front page of a newspaper, for example, because it was something of such popular appeal. This is no longer the case today.

This is perhaps due in part to a separation of oral and written poetries. Darwish, for instance, was a master of both orality and text. The young Palestinian-Egyptian Tamim al-Barghouti remains a poet of both oral and written forms (and even tried his hand at the “Prince of Poets” show). But many others are choosing one form or the other. The oral poetries remain “the genre of everyone,” and can win you a new car, whereas written forms often follow more Anglo traditions, such as Joumanah Haddad’s confessionalism.

Meanwhile, these young Americans are coming to do poetry, prose, and visual art in Tunisia and Egypt this summer. Seems plenty ambitious to me.

Categories: colloquial / classical, Million's Poet, poetry, Prince of Poets

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