Poetry Magazine calls for new poetry:
A new poetry becomes necessary not because we want one, but because the way poets have learned to write no longer captures the way things are, how things have changed. Reality outgrows the art form: the art form is no longer equal to the reality around it. The Georgian poets wrote, coming after a century of such writing, with the depleted sensibility of Romanticism. Their poetry was in love with an antebellum England: "yet / Stands the Church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?" The Georgians did not sense the approach of WWI, and their poetry was unequal to the horrors of trench warfare. (To see how a Georgian sensibility did respond, read Rupert Brooke: "If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England." This is a beautiful poem, but one far afield from mustard gas.) It took Yeats to give British poetry its first great dose of twentieth-century realism. It took The Waste Land to enable a poetry of chaos.
The need for something new is evident. Contemporary poetry’s striking absence from the public dialogues of our day, from the high school classroom, from bookstores, and from mainstream media, is evidence of a people in whose mind poetry is missing and unmissed. You can count on the fingers of one hand the bookstores in this country that are known for their poetry collections. A century ago our newspapers commonly ran poems in their pages; fifty years ago the larger papers regularly reviewed new books of poetry. Today one almost never sees a poem in a newspaper; and the new poetry collections reviewed in the New York Times Book Review are down to a few a year. A general, interested public is poetry’s foremost need. . . .
In 1933 Ernest Hemingway went on his first safari, hunting big game in East Africa. Then he came home and wrote short stories ("The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"), the non-fiction Green Hills of Africa, and an unfinished novel, True at First Light. It is a commonplace among creative writers that we should write what we know, but Hemingway took that a step further by seeking out fresh experience in the service of his writing: ambulance driving in the Spanish civil war, marlin fishing off Cuba, running with the bulls in Pamplona. He sought to live more in order to write better. That’s not to say that one has to be chased around Pamplona by bulls to gain experience. It could be something as slight as the difference between the poem one might get from a poet strolling past a construction site versus the poem one might get from the poet who is pouring concrete. Either could produce the better poem, of course, but the latter’s will be more deeply informed by experience. "To change your language," as Derek Walcott says, "you must change your life."
But when did you last meet a contemporary poet who takes this approach, seeking out fresh experience or new knowledge specifically for the benefit of his or her poetry? I personally don’t know many who would think to cross the street, let alone do what Hemingway did, in the hopes of getting a poem out of it. Rather it is the unconscious habit of poets to wait for the poem to come to them. (In the words of a poet friend, "You don’t choose the poem, the poem chooses you.") Most contemporary poets align their role as writer with that of witness. (Mary Oliver: "I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention." Or William Matthews: "I plan to notice everything.") They think of the artist as one more acted upon than acting. This is not to say, of course, that great poetry cannot come out of the most meager repository of lived experience. (Think of Emily Dickinson: all those years of writing in a still house, in the grip of a constant intensity.) The point rather is that poets today don’t seem even to be aware that what they write will be influenced by how they live.