Where were you when American poetess Sylvia Plath gassed herself in her London kitchen at the age of 30 during the harsh winter of 1963?
Not perhaps the stuff our memories are made of, but all that could change. There is a distinct revival worldwide of interest in poetry and poets. This is expressed in the increased purchase of poetry books – anthologies and works by individual poets – in the new and secondhand book markets.
There are a number of reasons for this:
The internet allows the discussion and publication of poetry in a way previously impossible considering the uneconomic nature of the physical publishing poetry and publishing critiques, both amateur and academic.
The brash and materialistic eighties preceded the fantastic and terrified nineties. Now here we are here in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, more sober and reflective, wondering where the world is going.
Out of this a generation is emerging a present-day version of the 60’s and 70’s dreamers and idealists. They want more than self-help books, more than herbal remedies and fatuous fantasies. There is a return to serious intellectual examination and spiritual actualization.
And by serious I don’t mean lacking in humor. I’m talking about intellectual acuity (take the works of travel poet Bill Bryson for instance) compared to idiotic ramblings (say the books of creative conspiracy theorist David Icke). Bryson is funny and perceptive while Icke is obtuse and laughable. There’s a big difference. We are moving away from weak thoughts to profundity.
Can there be any explanation other than this when a 17-year-old youth enters our bookshop asking for The Complete Works of Byron, or when a blonde girl no older than 15 says she is searching for the poems of Shelley?
In a decade of book-selling this has never happened before. Suddenly we are buying poetry books again to meet demand, and retrieving the slim poetry books we relegated to boxes in the basement, to create a special poetry section.
This makes sense of the revival of interest in the sixties ballad-poets: Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez. Once again Bob Dylan is speaking to the contemporary generation. T.S. Eliot and Ted Hughes are being discussed again. The demand for the work of Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran can barely be met. Dylan Thomas is revisited. There is renewed interest in the war poets and so-called world poetry: the Senegalese, Thai, French and Swedish poets.
And why not? It is possible because the books are available and affordable, thanks to the international online book-buying market and the renewed interest in poetic thought.
Can a rediscovery of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Milton’s Paradise Lost be far off? Horde any old poetry books and poetry anthologies you still have. You could catch your children reading them one day in a way you never did.
Call it poetic justice.