Why Write Poetry in the 21st Century?

The following is a guest post by Keith Welch, whose poetry appeared in Issue 16 of Typehouse

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In so many ways, the first decades of this century have disappointed: No flying cars, no condos on the moon, no reliable political system. War, poverty, and ignorance continue unabated. Depression would appear to be the order of the day. Yet poets continue to turn out poems full of insight, joy, wit, and even optimism.

It’s a technological age, and there are many intriguing distractions from life: television; films; the internet; video games. Writing and reading poetry require quiet introspection, which is the enemy of the modern distraction industries. Making time, and sitting down to write, to read, can be difficult.

I began writing poems to amuse myself and friends – simple rhymes about animals and politics. I saw poetry as a diverting word game to keep me occupied during slow periods. Later, when I began reading the work of modern poets, I decided to make the game more interesting by turning my hand to ‘serious‘ topics.

I fell into a trap. Poetry requires the writer to confront who they are, what they really feel, and, if they want to be published, to reveal themselves to a mostly uncaring world. Poetry can be an exercise in self-discovery, and the exposure can be frightening. Soon after I began writing I was plumbing the memories of my childhood, only to realize how fragile those memories are – am I a reliable narrator? How much of what I remember is the truth? How do they explain who I am now? Do I dare let my words out into the world?

Poetry can be art. It can be a game. It can be a trigger for self-discovery. In a world lit by computer screens and televisions, sitting alone with a pen and notebook seems more important then ever. Poems can be a gateway to greater empathy for both the writer and the reader.

At this time, I am far from being the poet that I want to be. I am still a young poet. I read the poets I admire and compare my words to theirs and sometimes despair. I keep writing because when I write, I’m forced to peel back layers of self-delusion to find truth about myself. And in my opinion, it’s still the best word game around.

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Keith Welch lives in Bloomington, Indiana where he works at the Indiana University Herman B Wells library. He has poems published in The Tipton Poetry Journal, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Dime Show Review, and Literary Orphans, among others. He enjoys complicated board games, baking, talking to his cat, Alice, and meeting other poets. His website is https://librarymole.wixsite.com/keithwelchpoetry.