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POETRIES & COMMUNITIES Project–General Argument

October 14th, 2013 margento


Does the community around us need poetry or poets?  Community—singular, as in local, or global as well—or rather plural, as we are part of or in touch with so many matrices crossing all kinds of social, linguistic, cultural, and geographical divides?  But going back to the first question, are poetry and poets one and the same thing in that respect—or, in other words, is the poets’ poetry the poetry that communities around them ‘consume’, identify with, enjoy or employ for (any of) the meanwhile marginalized and ‘secularized’ versions of the functions that poetry ‘normally’ had in ‘traditional’/‘pre-contact’/pre-(post)modern communities?

In a 1996 article significantly titled “Why American Poetry Is Not American Literature,” Joseph Harrington argued that (one of) the (main) reason(s) why not only the general public, but cultural critics as well are not currently interested in poetry is no other than the fact that the modernists themselves worked so hard at the beginning of the 20th century towards an elitist poetry shunning popularity and mass preferences.  Is there any prospect of change at the beginning of the 3rd millennium?  In his 2006 essay, “American Poetry in the New Century,” John Barr deplored the isolation of contemporary professional poets living in closed literary circles and MFA programs and their lack of touch with the wider life beyond the academia.  A new poetry, he argued, will most likely come not from formal experimentation and innovation (as it did at the turn of the 20th century), but from a new kind of experience.  Which, one could rightfully wonder, means living the life of 21st century transnational, multicultural and multilingual/inter-language or ‘translational’ communities, the life of a (virtual or actual) traveler across intersecting or migrating communities?

If poets know that, to paraphrase Dana Gioia, (their) poetry can matter within and to the communities around them and the cultures thereof, then they should be able to express and explain, in Jay Parini’s words, why poetry matters, and consequently, in what relevant ways it does (or should) inform and portray the community.

Or, why it fails to do so, for that matter.

The Poetries & Communities Project plans to testify on how contemporary poets relate to such issues and how they and their poetries (are) (re)shape(d) on multiple levels (by) the new experience of living in more and more diverse locales, contexts, perspectives, and therefore communities, in a globalized and transnational world.


The Poetries and Communities Project is curated by Visiting Scholar Chris Tanasescu (MARGENTO) at University of Ottawa and is affiliated to the Friday Circle directed by Poet-Professor Seymour Mayne in the University of Ottawa’s Creative Writing Program.



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