Should Modern Newspapers Publish Poetry?
When one thinks about poetry, perhaps two extreme versions come to mind. On the one hand, there is the poetry of the Western canon with poets such as William Wordsworth, John Milton and Emily Dickinson. On the other hand, some may think of contemporary poets like Rupi Kaur, who cater their writing style to social media sites such as Instagram. Evidently, poetry is a genre that is immensely broad and this may cause one to wonder if it can find a home in the modern newspaper.
Many modern newspapers follow a similar format, with various sections for sports, business or entertainment to name a few. Now, imagine if there was a section strictly for poetry. While this may raise some questions about the purpose of publishing poetry in the newspapers, this is a powerful and useful way for the general public to engage with this art form.
Poetry and its Function in Society
In modern society, poetry has taken a backseat to prose and some may say that outside of a scholarly context, it is barely relevant. There is an air of complexity that envelops poetry, making it appear intimidating and puzzling to anyone who lacks experience with this writing style. However, this has not always been the case as there was once a time wherein poetry was greatly preferred over prose.
The Victorian era was one of much chaos and confusion as many struggled to find a meaning or purpose in life. Scientific discoveries, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, caused many to doubt their Christian faith. At the time, this faith had been at the center of everyone’s lives and understandably, Darwin’s discovery greatly disrupted many people’s self-identity and beliefs. In response to this loss of meaning in life, there was a belief that poetry would eventually take the place of religion and the Church. Poets were seen as wizard-like sages who could guide the masses to find moral and ethical guidelines. This notion is depicted in John Martin’s famous painting The Bard wherein a poet stands atop a cliff which overlooks an army that he appears to be guiding.
As it is now known, this did not end up occurring, so how did poetry manage to fall down the stairs of relevance? Art has always been somewhat of a cultural artifact which has the capacity to portray and encapsulate the state of society and humankind in a given time period. Poetry is no different; as mentioned previously, during the Victorian era, poetry captured the chaos and confusion that came with scientific advancements as it provided an alternative source to find a purpose in life. Throughout this era, poetry also managed to represent the debate which had been occurring surrounding the role of women in society. Poems such as Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and Anna Barbauld’s Washing Day capture various opinions on where and how Victorian women should behave and present themselves.
Similarly, in the Modernist period, the early 1900s to the 1940s, much of the poetry and writing reflected the state of this society. Characterized best in literature by T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, modernist literature often was experimental and dealt with themes of alienation and disconnect between humanity. While there is not one standalone reason for the shift to this period, many point toward the First World War. This war shattered many’s faith in humankind and is generally accepted as the main factor which fuelled this era of anxiety-riddled art. Perhaps the most well-known example of a modernist poem is Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock which highlights the attempts of the titular character to confront his isolation from the rest of society.
Fast-forwarding to today, it seems that poetry no longer garners the attention that it used to. In the whirlwind of today’s society, poetry has found itself fighting for attention against newer art forms such as film and music. Movies and music have seamlessly captured the raw emotions and societal complexities that once danced within the lines of poems and they have done so in a manner that is outwardly more entertaining and approachable. All the while, poetry has taken a dramatic shift and evolved into an art form that is highly confessional and often accompanied by illustrations and other visuals. It is certainly possible that this increasingly personal style of poetry has not appealed to all enthusiasts of this genre and this may attribute to a decline in readership.
While poetry today may not play a considerable role, throughout time, it has clearly demonstrated that it can successfully be used to communicate relevant information about current issues. An example of this can be found in Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden. In this poem, the speaker highlights the supposed responsibility of “the White Man” to “civilize” and “guide” the natives of the Philipines. With a modern lens, it is understood that Kipling’s writings were fuelled by a dangerous racist perspective, however, at the time of its publication, this issue of imperialism and colonialism was incredibly relevant. In 1899, the year The White Man’s Burden was published, readers would gain valuable information regarding these topics such as the general opinion on the issue of colonialism as well as some reasons to argue for it. Evidently, not only does this poem provide readers with key details about what would have been a current topic, but it also opens an avenue for greater discussion as it arms readers with various argumentative points that one can mull over either internally or externally.
A more modern example that displays how effective poetry can be at communicating information can be found in Margaret Atwood’s The Immigrants. There is a great amount of debate in the modern world about topics of immigration and geopolitics and it is easy to forget that these are not just empty words and that these debates have immense consequences on the lives of many around the world. Atwood’s The Immigrants portrays the experiences of immigrants by highlighting the hopes, challenges, and prejudice that they often encounter. By doing this, the poem encourages the reader to reflect on empathy, understanding, and the importance of human connection. For those who are perhaps just entering the conversation surrounding immigration, this poem could act as a segway of sorts. It instills in the reader the notion that this is a topic worth learning more about and guides them in the pursuit of further knowledge. On the other hand, for those well-versed in the discussion of immigration and geopolitics, perhaps this poem allows them to break down the walls of disillusionment that they might have and realize that the discussion of immigration is a discussion of real human lives. Through doing this, it is once again revealed that poetry has the profound ability to inform the public on current issues as well as create opportunities for an increase in the discussion of these topics.
As demonstrated through the poems by Kipling and Atwood, it appears that poetry does in fact have the ability to provide valuable information on relevant news topics and it now seems more possible to imagine a world wherein poems are commonplace in the modern newspaper. However, where would these poems be found? Would they have their own section similar to a Sports or Business section? More importantly, what good does it do to have poetry in newspapers? There is already an established method to share information through traditional articles, so why would there ever need to be an incorporation of poetry?
Poetry’s Fit in the Modern Newspaper
There are two possible ways in which poetry could find a permanent home in newspapers. The first, being more traditional, would be reminiscent of editorial or political cartoons. Similar to political cartoon sections, newspapers can reserve specific areas for poetry, either featuring works from regular writers or for an increase in community engagement there could be regular submissions from the public. These curated sections offer readers a sanctuary from the fast-paced news cycle, immersing them in introspective and thought-provoking verse.
On the other hand, perhaps poetry should not be cornered off into its own section. By having reserved pages strictly for poetry, it is easy to imagine that many would simply skim over or entirely skip these sections. In order to avoid this, poetry could be placed with related articles. Poetry has the unique ability to combine facts with feeling and newspapers can use this to their own advantage. As was previously discussed, poetry allows its readers to feel empathy and connect on a personal level with issues that many have no experience with. Newspapers could strategically place, for example, Atwood’s The Immigrants above an article about new immigration policies in the U.S.A. and this could easily increase readership. There are bound to be different topics or articles that people are unfamiliar with in newspapers and placing a related poem before these articles could help curb reader disengagement. Upon reading these poems, perhaps the reader would become more interested in the previously unknown topic and feel motivated to learn more about the facts of the issue.
The benefits of publishing poetry in newspapers would be felt for a long time. Newspapers would gain an increase in readership and community engagement, and perhaps more importantly, there would be a demystification and democratization of poetry. In today’s world, people who leisurely read poetry are somewhat of a rarity and why is this? It is generally agreed upon that outside of a scholarly context, poetry is a daunting and intimidating form of writing. It is difficult for many to start reading poetry simply because one does not know where to begin, but with the publication of poetry in the papers, it would become perhaps one of the most accessible art forms.
While poetry will never reach the height that the Victorians thought it would, there is no reason for this art form to die off. It is a powerful and moving form of writing that captures stories and weaves them through personal and intense emotions and it demands a home in the modern-day newspaper. After all, a newspaper is made to communicate stories and information to the masses and as T.S. Eliot said, “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood”.
What do you think? Leave a comment.