Pity the Poor Newspaper Poets!

A 1922 New York Times Magazine article analyzed the contemporary state of newspaper poetry, which was a widespread feature in journalism publications back then. Today, it’s almost completely disappeared.

Even the few journalism publications which run poetry in their print editions today, like the New Yorker and the Atlantic, are magazines. For newspapers, though, it’s basically gone.

Why?

Former Illinois poet laureate Kevin Stein suggests it was because of World War I and the subsequent rise of the Modernism movement in culture, in areas ranging from music to painting to (yes) poetry. This excerpt comes from Stein’s 2010 book Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age.
 

Artists of all stripes asked why one should put faith in the old values and social foundations when, after all, these very social forces had produced trench warfare, the machine gun, the tank, gas attacks, and various means of mass and anonymous killing. Romantic poetry — like the sword fight and the cavalry charge — appeared hopelessly outmoded in a culture exercising such destructive wrath.

As a result, newspapers were no longer the preferred medium for poets.

Partly by poets’ choices and partly as a result of the newfangled aesthetic these poets ushered in, a schism developed between them and the polite reading public. Poets looking for a modern mode of distributing their verse turned away from the newspapers and slick magazines, for those venues seemed complicit in promoting and sustaining the bankrupt values that had led the modern world astray.

That choice came at a cost, though, as poetry plummeted in popularity. Cultural commentator Chuck Klosterman described this phenomenon in his 2016 book But What If We’re Wrong?

In 1936, a quarterly magazine called The Colophon polled its subscribers… about what contemporary writers they believed would be viewed as canonical at the turn of the twenty-first century. … [Of the top 10], they voted for three poets. If such a poll were taken today, it’s hard to imagine how far down the list one would have to scan before finding the name of even one. A present-day Colophon would need to create a separate category for poetry, lest it not be recognized at all.

Pity the Poor Newspaper Poets!

Published: Sunday, December 31, 1922

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