Who is on the plum tree?
The Death of Poetry: Uncovering its meta-structure, unpacking its discontents. About a hundred years ago a book was written that shook the Northern or Western world. It was Thus Spake Zarathsutra by Nietzsche. People who haven’t read it remember only the main sentence in it – “God is dead.” Nietzsche’s powerful, poetic voice carried enough weight as philosophy to make it the post- God era in the minds of many people across the world. A god – shaped hole existed thereafter in the minds of many human beings, according to Eliot, and he suggested that poetry could give a form to this void.
Earlier itself, Arnold had suggested the importance of poetry as a means of keeping men civilized, an idea that had and still has both disastrous and amusing consequences when it is applied by the colonizer to the colonized, with the civilizing agent being, supposedly, English poetry. Fast forward to Barthes and his significant essay “The Death of the Author.” “ The Death of the author is the birth of the reader.” And yet once again, if one goes back to Saussure and forward to Derrida we come to the vita nuova of context, author/narrator, text (signifiers), world (referents) and reader/s and critics who tell each other what it all signifies, what is being signified endlessly so that we understand finally that writing, media, reading, and literature is a game, except when one transgresses the context, which generally happens only in politically stressful times.
POETRY TOO IS DEAD. The power of poetry as a discourse fled in the West a long time ago, and all over the world there are only a handful of significant poets or poems left in the public consciousness starting probably from the seventies. But just as God has not died, being kept alive by the contexts in which the concept of God is still celebrated as being worthy of continuity, and the author has not died, still being harassed by the millions of readers who forget his/her works but don’t forget to say it is only about him/her and that man/woman – the naïve reader’s autobiographic approach of reading a text, as Eco would put it – poetry and art too continues to live if it strikes a note that disturbs people.
The sexual, the religious, the political, the violent, the technological, the scientific, the perverse, the aberrant and the deviant are the only disturbing presences in today’s world that people want to get rid of – thus it is only in these contexts that poetry has a half-life anymore, despite its being palpably dead. This is not to say that its ghost or skeleton is not imbued with love by its adherents and does not have its own aesthetics or ethics. We know what happens when something/someone dies, there is an extreme reaction to it from people who loved/love it, who will do anything in retaliation to prove that it is still alive, to keep it alive somehow.
But let me first deal with the announcement of the death itself. For me, the formal significant announcement of poetry’s death came when I read Robert Kroetsch’s poems. He is a Canadian novelist and poet, and a friend of mine was doing research on him so I had the good fortune to read some of his poems. http://.ca/ What occurred to me then was the simple fact that Kroetsch, like Beckett in a different sense, knew that poetry had to be broken down even further into its basic elements which are purely graphic, graphemic, phonemic and phonic initially, and only then addresses the void of meaning caused by the absence or death of God, the author and now after my article, of poetry itself. As Beckett said elsewhere: “my work is a matter of fundamental sounds, let those who want to get lost in the overtones and provide their own aspirin.” In short, we practise a dead art but can get a response now only if one writes in the “words/language/voices of the dead, which are/is tongued by fire, far beyond the tongues of the living” – to paraphrase T.S.Eliot. I search to invent that language. Dr A.V. Koshy