I had a dream last night that record stores sold poetry instead of music. The plastic CD cases held little booklets of poems, neatly typed and set out. Some of the poetry was written by a group of people, collaborating to produce a varied and eclectic collection of verses, while some was written by a single person. Some of it was fun, upbeat poetry, with bouncing dactyls and light-hearted subject matter. Some was depressing - ranging from self-pitying glurge to painfully honest expressions of existential angst.
People on the internet - regular people, not academics - had heated discussions about their favourite and least favourite poets, often descending into outright abuse. The man on the television condemned the latest trend towards trochaic poetry, viewing it as an attack on the iambic foundations of art and civilization. When a child poet burst onto the scene and captured a younger audience, fans of all kinds of poetry joined together to deride his work as mere doggerel, emblematic of the coarsening of poetic culture today.
Then I woke up. Imagine if music was treated the way we treat poetry: relegated to the domain of prissy intellectuals and limp-wristed homosexuals, indicative of a weakness of moral character. Imagine if people listened to and enjoyed music in their youth, but were expected to grow out of it when they became 'serious' adults. Imagine no public music: not in elevators, not in supermarkets, almost never on the radio. Hip-hop is of course excellent, and I suppose that lyrics are a kind of popular poetry, but it doesn't seem like enough. Millions of people are growing up without an appreciation of the beauty of language - without a sense that such an appreciation is desirable or even possible. What can we do about it?