Poetry is an overlooked art that is gaining popularity after the appearance of Instagram-style poets. Now some poets, such as Rupi Kaur, can brag of having New York Times bestsellers. Other poets such as Nicole Lyons of Canada and Alexandria Ryu of South Korea have maintained status as huge selling poets. Lyons’ release from Sudden Denouement Publishing entitled I Am a World of Uncertainties Disguised as a Girl earned a total of 1,000 dollars in royalties the first week of release. Her following is immense and she is frequently plagiarized on the Internet.
However, a poet is a different person than the persona may cast. Poets can be varied people. One myth concerning poets is their genius is linked to insanity. However, some poets are not necessarily insane and are productive in their own right.
The myth of the “mad poet” is not without foundation. Poets throughout history have lost their minds, ruined their lives, and sunk into suicidal despondency. The great Abstract Expressionist poet Georg Trakl worked as a pharmacist and served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I as a medic. However, he deteriorated slowly and died at the age of 27 of a cocaine overdose. He is known to have possibly had an incestuous relationship with his sister, a recognized pianist. His life was short and troubled from the beginning and he lacked intimate relationships with others. He did, however, earn the respect of the influential German philosopher Wittgenstein who helped him financially. Gerard de Nerval, another poet widely recognized, hung himself after a life in poverty and distress. The French playwright Antonin Artaud, a deeply troubled man himself, wrote “Gerard de Nerval was not mad, but society accused him of being mad in order to discredit certain very important revelations that he was about to make.” This adds to the body of work concerning the myth of the insane poet.
Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” It’s debatable what that even means. In the context Shelley imparts, he discloses the ways religion itself is poetry, the relationship between language and culture, and how poetry contains an enchanting power. It is mythmaking.
Poetry is unpopular but it is eternal. The poet must earn his or her wings. The words of the poet must bear some semblance to the age he or she lives in and those words must contain power. That power is indeed above the world, in some beyond, where the people of everyday life fail to look. Poetry is something that sings from the depths and speaks to the heart of humanity as it voices the desires, fears, and dreams of the human race. It testifies to our ambitions and hopes while singing our despair.
Perhaps this is why poets are more in tune with the world. This is what drives poets to insanity, to dark fear, to isolation. Poets hold within them a universe of wisdom that is natural and earned simultaneously. The rough road is the “road less travelled,” as Frost wrote. It makes all the difference. If we are to regret what we lost in each decision they should then be bold, difficult, and honest.
Poetry is the road we all take within ourselves. The truth is that in spite of appearance all of us are wildly mad, living in a chaos that organizes as quickly as it rots, and some of us hold to the flame more intensely. That flame, the essence of being, is where poetry finds its light.