OBJECTIVES OF THE AMERICAN AESTHETIC (The Editor)
" . . . out of key with his time
He strove to resuscitate the dead art
Of Poetry . . ."
To better understand the objectives of The American Aesthetic, one must first understand what prompted the creation of this poetry journal in the first place.
Since the late 1960s, I have witnessed a striking decline in both the quality as well as the popularity of poetry in America. Doubtless many would say that the reasons for this decline are varied and complex—for myself, I prefer to credit poetry’s decline to the remorseless political, cultural, and even spiritual disillusionment precipitated by the Vietnam War.
Though some may disagree that the quality of poetry in America has diminished over the last half century, surely none can deny that public interest in poetry has lessened considerably during this period; indeed, in a recent edition of American Public Television’s “News Hour Poetry Series,” both American Poet Laureate Billy Collins and his interviewer, Jeffrey Brown, seemed to say as much:
JEFFREY BROWN: You’re one of a handful of poets who -- who -- who I guess we could think of as public poets in our culture, which is not noticeably open to poetry all that much, right? What’s your sense of it?
BILLY COLLINS: . . . Well, now I would say at any given moment in American life, there are probably 45 poets in airplanes vectoring across the country heading towards . . .
JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a funny image for -- when we usually think nobody’s reading poetry, but you’re saying poets are crisscrossing America . . .
BILLY COLLINS: . . . I don’t know if anyone’s reading it [poetry], but poets are still flying around the country going from lectern to lectern.
Although there are many more poets publishing today than ever before in human history, there are proportionately far fewer people actually reading their poems. Billy Collins, in his latest book, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, chooses to blame it on the competition:
The trouble with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry, more guppies crowding the fish tank.
One could only wish that Billy Collins had more courageously added “and more bad poetry crowding the fish tank.” For the brutal truth is: it’s not the quantity of poets that matters, but rather the quality of their compositions.
Thus, in the cause of countering this glut of unpopular poetry—possibly even upending the fish tank, so to speak--The American Aesthetic has established three primary goals or objectives:
Objective 1: To search for poetry that will once again engage the general public’s interest; poetry that will seem more meaningful and relevant to their everyday lives—much as a good song, a good play, a good movie, a good book, or a good lecture or sermon might seem meaningful and relevant to their lives.
Objective 2: To at least attempt to devise the methodology or criteria for determining what is a good poem. “Gerontion,” “Lycidas,” “All In Green Went My Love Riding,” and “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” are all great poems—but how do we know that? A certain theatrical quality? A certain musicality? A certain vision or purpose—an agenda even? What insights gained from reanalyzing the poetry of the past might be useful in evaluating new and contemporary poetry? And, in all of this, how much credence should we give to the innate aesthetic judgement?
Objective 3: To create a forum, platform, nexus to bring a certain caliber of poets together in one place. That this gathering or convergence of poets might not only engage the interest of the reading public but also serve to acquaint individual poets with other poets who might otherwise have remained unknown to them, and with whom (one hopes) they might find common ground.
Note: Transcript excerpts from PBS’s NewsHour Poetry Series Interview of October 29, 2013: