Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Death of Poetry and Family Trees

Poetry is dead. What passes for poetry today are short lines of prose. Rhyming rap music is not poetry. Poetry is all about rhythm and structure. Can you name the present poet laureate of the United States? Have you ever heard or read one of his poems? I began to think about this when lying awake during the middle of the night. But I think that the impression came when I saw the lilacs blooming for the first time in many years. It reminded me of Walt Whitman:
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. 
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
And of course, that got me thinking about the Civil War and that got me thinking about family trees. As a bonus to seeing lilacs bloom, I am watching the new, green leaves pop out on the trees out my window. That also got me thinking about family trees.

Almost all modern poetry is set out in a short-line, pseudo-artistic way. They are the cultural descendants of e. e. cummings without the content. In fact, the new Poet Laureate uses the same typographical structures as e. e. cummings without the content. Unusual word combinations do not make poetry. Poetry has an internal structure. Like most forms of communication, content rules.

What about family trees? Form without content. Just because I put a bunch of names in a family tree format, it does not mean it is genealogy nor by doing so, do I become a genealogist.  I was teaching a class last night and one of the participants essentially asked why I was worried about the content of the Family Tree? Wasn't that his "genealogy?" When I started to point out all the errors in the part of the Family Tree we were looking at, I hope he realized that he could not rely on the accuracy of anything he was looking at, even, in some cases when there were sources listed.

I could program a computer to generate random words and put them into short lines and call it poetry. By the way, this has already been done many times. How do you tell this random selection of words from "real poetry?" Again the answer is content. How do you tell a real family tree from a collection of names in a family tree format? The same answer: content. How do I tell a modern typographical arrangement of words from poetry? I do that by reading thousands of poems starting with the Greeks and Norse Sagas to Byron and Keats. How do I tell if a family tree is empty of content? I spent the last thirty years looking at family trees.

Just like the green leaves coming on the trees in Spring, once we add content to our family trees, we can see the poetry in our ancestry.

1 comment:

  1. As a retired English teacher, I love the analogy, the quote, and for me, true poetry will never be dead.