The Death of English Poetry

"Death of English Poetry" -- Essay by D. Rudoy.
Three and a half years ago I wrote an essay on the unsatisfactory state of affairs in the realm of Russian poetry whose overall standards dropped dramatically after the death of some of the greatest poets in the country’s history (of whom only Joseph Brodsky may be known to the majority of English-speaking folks) in the last two decades of the 20th century. Yet, gloomy as my verdict was, it is still a parade of optimism compared to contemporary English poetry as the latter is only a corpse which has already decomposed beyond stinking. The decision to abandon strict rhyming and rhythmic rules in favor of “free form” under the hypocritical pretext of creative innovation was the decision which murdered the English poetic genre, replacing it with an alternative so devoid of literary grace that calling it “poetry” is simply blasphemous.

Why Rhyming Poetry was Abandoned

Most people have no idea how much intelligence writing poetry requires.

D. Rudoy.

If you ever tried composing poetry you know how hard it is. Ordinary thoughts don’t follow a meter, and the need to rhyme obfuscates the intended sense. Even great poets habitually struggle with their masterpieces, and an individual lacking the poetic talent is doomed to wasting his time and effort on nothing but bad verses. But, unlike bad prose, bad poetry has a huge drawback: its low quality is obvious even to those who don’t understand literature. A bad poem can be designed as serious, funny, didactic or anything else; but, regardless, it looks pathetic.

This difficulty eventually created a twofold problem. On the one hand, most people were barred from writing poetry as their attempts would be invariably met with well-deserved scorn; on the other hand, the dire shortage of good poetry lost publishers a thick stream of revenue as one of the popular genres was essentially taken out of their business model. Naturally, this had to be helped, so the simplest solution was designed: to debase poetry until everyone can engage in producing it without the fear of being exposed as an impostor.

Why was writing poetry not an issue in the past?

Because people who engaged in it belonged to the cultural elite.

Essentially all of the fine art and writing prior to the 20th century was created by the select few who knew what they were doing. Now it’s exactly the opposite: millions of people who should be secretaries and assistants to someone gifted engage in various creative activities without the slightest clue of how they are done. And literature is the heaviest casualty. Most of the world’s current population would be illiterate one hundred years ago, and now that the masses not only learned to read and write without knowing how to handle their basic instincts but also were given computers and the Internet, the same amount of writing is produced each day that had been produced from the dawn of mankind until the end of the 20th century. Naturally, almost all of that writing is regurgitation of failed attempts to handle the basic instincts.

The status-quo in modern literature is an excellent illustration of what happens when the mass gets a shot at culture: it invariably turns the latter into a cheap, pretentious circus with a brothel hidden inside. A mediocrity will always realize the insurmountable distance between itself and a giant, but this painful realization will only encourage the mediocrity to eliminate the giant, not to become one itself. And what can provide a better cover for mediocrity than a sham democracy where, once you accumulate enough fans, any crap you write will be met with the more praise the more money it makes?

Will the situation change?

Not without a fight.

The current world is that of cannibalistic capitalism, and as far as its ideals are concerned, the cultural situation is above reproach. As the masses learned to read, a large new market of consumers with plenty of volunteers to satisfy the demand was created. In the end, almost everybody won: the cynical publishers revamped a source of revenue, the writing mediocrities raised to the top of bestselling charts, and the unsophisticated masses got more crap in colorful covers than they can consume in a million lifetimes.

The Fight For The Future

The select few who understand literature, who see what atrocities are happening, and who refuse to accept the current triumph of plebeian ignorance as a status quo, face a nontrivial challenge. The mediocrity tide responsible for the collapse of literary culture is currently at its highest, with self-publishing and digital marketing giving unprecedented opportunities to keep flooding the world with crap until no worthy piece of writing can attract enough attention. And the billionaire owners of media do everything they can to keep this lucrative trend rolling, reaping handsome profits in the process. What is there to do if any attempt to protest seems doomed to dissolve in a society indifferent to any appeal to non-basic desires? How are we to succeed in a world that is skeptical of anything that cannot be sold?

Let us not forget that debasing humanity is not the only possible use of technology: the same tools which turned culture into a circus can reverse the tide and rearrange the modern society according to higher universal standards. Remember: mediocrity is mediocre at everything it does, and the only reason why our world is enslaved by it is its overwhelming quantity. And, while the cultural elite will always be in minority, our task is to employ our imagination and obtain victory in a way that our competition, both cynical and naive, cannot conceive of.

The challenge we are facing now is truly unprecedented, but it is precisely its magnitude and difficulty that make it worthy not only of our immediate attention and best effort, but also of realizing how lucky we are to fight so hard for something that would have been taken for granted a century ago. We’ve already spent too much time in a paradigm defined and ruled by intellectual pygmies; it’s time to create a power that will establish a new cultural order, one which will educate the common people beyond the animal level and introduce them to the infinite realm of artistic and spiritual fulfillment.

By D. Rudoy. August 2019.