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Since the end of the eighteenth century, Christopher Clausen asserts, poetry has steadily declined in cultural status in the English-speaking world, yielding its former place as a bearer of truth to the advancing sciences. As the position of poetry was more and more threatened, its defenders made ever higher claims for its importance, even maintaining for a time that it would take the place of religion. But, though the Romantics brought about a sustained revival of serious poetry for a broad audience, the audience began to dwindle toward the end of the nineteenth century, and the decline accelerated as the twentieth century advanced.
Though some of the cultural changes responsible for this retreat were beyond the control of poets—“a society in which many people find their chief security and sense of meaning through the possession of certain objects will produce great advertising, not great poetry”—Clausen finds in this situation evidence of an abdication among artists. Because modernist poets and their successors abandoned some indispensable principles, he believes, serious contemporary poetry now has virtually no audience outside of English departments. Yet the need for poetry “is not less in an era like ours,” and “the opportunities that the end of the twentieth century offers to poetry will not become fully apparent unless and until poets take advantage of them.”
Christopher Clausen is a poet and an associate professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
"Clausen offers a persuasive statement about the disappearing audience for poetry and is right to assign a good share of the blame to the poets themselves."—Malcolm Cowley
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Clausen, Christopher, "The Place of Poetry: Two Centuries of an Art in Crisis" (1981). Creative Writing. 1.