According to some sources and measurements, poetry is all but dead.
I’ll admit. I have very few logical comebacks against the uselessness of poetry. When examining the strange, disjointed lines of Gertrude Stein, for example, the students in my Introduction to Literature Class scoffed and rebelled — no, revolted.
If you have ever read Gertrude, you understand. Her ceaseless repetition of basic vocabulary in subversive patterns is a bit like listening to nails on a chalkboard… only louder and more persistent.
That was the point of Stein’s poetry: to subvert accepted norms and institutional power (social contracts, gender, government, and even language) through ceaseless repetition and re-positioning. She played the “I cannot change your mind so I will change the language you think in” game. Her poetry starts off playful, even coy. Then, gradually, it grows violent, tearing through our delicate understanding of self and other, man and woman, meaning and culture, violating even the most basic of principles to make a singular point — which is that there is no point.
She is infuriating and fascinating, and her poetry is all this and much worse.
At least, that is what I told my students.
My elaborate explanations fell on deaf ears trained by brilliant academic advisors, life experience, and practical career preparation. They called BS on my academic fluffiness. One particularly daring student wrote a single word over and over again in her final essay (meant to be a 1500-word examination of the impact of poetry on society following World War II).
Touché, daring student #1. Touché.
As for poets, there isn’t much I can muster in our defense. Particularly for those like me: a poet with an MFA from a Buddhist university founded by hippies in a parking lot, hippies who simply wanted to get paid (by a government they despised) to write, meditate, and drink whiskey amongst their newly appointed gurus. Or even worse, a poet (hi!) with absolutely no measurable comprehension of computer science.
Who, or what, could possibly be more useless to the data revolution and our reimagining of society through the power of technology? Given the right algorithm and basic data, any computer can write damn fine poetry. It’s a simple input/output process. An equation to harmony. Why even create poetry (as a human, that is)? Why does it matter? If it’s all just 0s and 1s, in some sense, why is it important? Why is it necessary? And what does it have to do with the blockchain?
It’s true that as a poet, it would be much easier to sit in the shadows of this revolution and emerge, from time to time, in a reflective, academic sort of way. But for me, it is important to be in the trenches, a part of and an active contributor to this space and its future. Because, poet or not, I am a firm believer that this technology is critical to a free and creative future.
I need blockchain to be all that it promises. And if you’re a fellow writer or artist, so do you.
Now, I’m not arguing that developers should cease their developing in favor of composing sonnets. Nor am I arguing that poets, artists, and philosophers should trade their art and words for lines of code and Deep Learning 101. I am, however, arguing that there are commonalities between these disciplines, and that examining this common ground would benefit the world we all happen to exist in.
Shall we build the argument, then?