Come on, critics, gather round. Time for me to post some Big Theory on the state of poetry in our time. Feel free to argue with me — I am so likely to be off-base about this that I need a good humdinging bus-down row.
It occurs to me that our era, with the push-pull of denial of climate change and faith and disbelief and evolution and creation and war, isn’t all that different from the great eras which incubate great poetry. There’s something that’s happened in English poetry (poetry written in English, that is) that seems to be connected with the turns of our centuries for the last two and a half centuries or so, and it’s this: first, there’s a time of great revolution where big things — plays and novels, say — get produced, but when the poetry is not so great. And then, in the wake of that revolution, which may have begun with the industrial revolution (1750s), but might have begun even earlier, with the Tudor conquest of the Plantagenets (though I don’t know enough about Restoration literature to say), you get a major poetry period. Of course, the Elizabethan/Jacobean period had theatre and poetry flourishing together, but after that, not so much: there are the essays and poetry of the Dryden-Pope period, and then that’s followed by the genesis of novels, which is then followed by the Romantic era (all lyrical and poetical), which gives way to a golden century of long fiction and so-so poets, and then another revolution with poems and plays and novels all happening at once (the turn of the last century and the inter-war era). Television and film dilute this somewhat, I suppose. Poetry really hasn’t seen a great era much since the Modernists, the last of them dying just after the Second World War; what follows is far more cerebral and self-conscious and — frankly — either boring or mediocre or both, the best being either chatty or polemic, and short-lived.
But we’re living through an era of huge change. This radical shift in the delivery of information, I suspect, is going to lead us into an era of great poetry. Already the internet is creating constellations of poets who are doing stuff that’s stirring, not simply competent or correct. In a couple of decades, who knows?