Friday, December 19, 2014

Popularity of Poets

In an interview with NPR, Donald Hall the Poet, says with a sly grin that he thinks he will be forgotten after his death.

"At some point in this book I said
that I expect my immortality to cease
about seven minutes after my funeral.
I have seen so many poets who were famous,
who won all sorts of prizes, disappear with their deaths."
-- Donald Hall

I think lots of poets who become famous while they are alive, become well-known through a combination of good luck, knowing the right people, and being skilled at performing their poems. The poems themselves are only part of the life as a poet that they develop.

Since much of their popularity hinges on performance, and relationships with the right people in power in pobiz, the poetry business world, it is no surprise that their popularity vanishes when they die. While there is sometimes substance in the poems that they have written, much of their popularity was based on their actually being alive.

The poet whose vision in their poems is based entirely on their own personality may be successful while alive, but oftentimes are forgotten after death, unless the poetry they write is exceptionally good like Wordsworth, Dante, Byron, and Shelley. Poets who write about other people will be remembered far longer, such as Homer, Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton.

I find it interesting that poets who often were not popular or well-known while they were alive, yet wrote great poetry of rich substance and complex visions about the weirdness of life, become astronomically famous after their deaths.

Back in the 1990s, I was a student of poetry from all aspects of culture, from popular singers to the beats to the academics. I was intrigued with the careers of people like Jim Morrison, who had aspired to higher poetry, yet expended so much energy in the wild flash of the Orphic quest for truth of the trance and conveyance of vision through the live performance. Yet when he died, the blazing fire of his personality vanished, and all that was left, besides performances recorded on video, were the lyrics of the songs he had composed.

I learned the lesson that in spite of all the wild flash of energy, the text that resulted, which encases the vision of the poet's mind, was what would last long after the death of the body. A poet like Bob Dylan encased in a deeper and more complex lyrical body of text that vision of a better world that could be which inspired him to sing. Dylan is one of the very few poets who have been able to channel his energy into the performance and dynamic lyrics of rich complexity.

Many poets and singers have lots of flash where the energy of their popularity depends on the power of the live performance, whether they are using academic poet voice, slam poet voice, folk singer voice, rock singer voice, or rap singer voice, yet in the end, after we all die, the only thing that is left is the text of the poems.

The audience may be energized by the performance of the poet at the ritual of the live performance, but after the ritual is ended, all that remains are the words carved onto the cold stone walls of the temple that dream forever beyond the deaths of performers and audience.

Poetry with a grand vision about the history of humanity presented through the complex characters of humans who go on the classic quest for truth better enshrines the dynamic energy of the visionary mind of the poet, and such poetry will last far longer because it presents a coherent vision than poetry of poets who focus more energy on the temporary performance.

In the end who is more successful, the poet whose popularity during life with much acclaim and prizes is based on performance, or the poet whose strength of vision is based on the quality of the text in presenting the complexity of human life?