Yesterday I discussed the decline in readership of poetry and asked rhetorically “Should poets lament that decline?” Today I’d like to offer some hope if I may.
Through the course of my reading today for the unsublime acts related to my business I came across this good read about Generation Y.
Generation Y is the generation that follows my generation, Generation X. Generation Y is defined as those persons born beginning in the early 1980s and running through 1997. The curious thing about Generation Y is that they do not remember a time when there were no mobile phones and they saw the Internet grow into mass popularity right before their eyes. This contrasts to Generation X, which is said to have never known a time when there was no nuclear threat. We also have never lived without television (sadly). Generation Y has grown up knowing and fearing, presumably, widespread terrorism.
These are not mere facts in a vacuum. They shape our perceptions of the world in the same way that my grandparents were shaped by the Great Depression, through which they lived and as a result were a much more frugal generation than mine. But the question is, How does any of this relate to poetry?
Why Gen Y Is The Digital Generation
According to the article on ReadWriteWeb, one of my favorite blogs, Generation Y can be described with the following attributes:
- They’re “plugged in” – In other words, they are digital multitaskers. Internet, TV, MP3, radio, text messaging, the whole schmeer all at once. Way to go guys. If it all crashes tomorrow, you’re fucked. But have fun along the way.
- TV is background noise - Generation Y’ers are too busy for TV. Surfing the Net, listening to their iPod, playing the Xbox, and generally making use of other gadgets. Thanks to my stepchildren, I can vouch for this. I have witnessed them chatting, texting, talking on the phone, talking to their mom, and listening to the mp3s all at once.
- Friends before and above advertising – A Generation Y person will likely ask for their friends’ opinions before being influenced by your advertising. Sorry, but they just aren’t taken in by the ads. This is perhaps the first generation of young people that have no interest in getting in on the cool act because of an ad they saw somewhere. If their friends like it, though, you’re in like Flynn.
- There is more to life than work – Treat ‘em badly and they leave. No questions. No stickin’ around for the paycheck. It’s fuck you, Buddy; you’re an asshole. Quite frankly. I don’t blame them. They aren’t slaves. They’re people. Tone down the “I’m the boss” rhetoric.
- They’re socially conscious – They know what’s going on even if they don’t watch Brian Williams. They get their news from the Internet and they know more about green living and natural health than the experts do so just shut the fuck up already.
Here’s the gist of it all right here:
(Source) Since Gen Y grew up on the web, they’re going to be the driving force behind the way the web of the future is shaped. What Gen Y wants from the web will be the web.
You hear that? These guys know what they’re doing. The rest of us have been stumbling along for the last 12 or 13 years trying to figure how the web works and to use it to our advantage. Your 13-year-old already knows. When she’s 21, she’s going to build a business that makes yours look like a roadside fruit stand. She’s probably already started on it. But will she have time for poetry?
Poetry Is Not A Necessity
Understand this: Poetry is not a necessity. It’s a luxury.
The definition of humility is knowing your place in the world. You can’t go around preaching to people about how wonderful poetry is and expect them to take you seriously. You can’t walk into a room and shout, “Hey! Poetry is here. Get it while it’s hot!” The fact is, people can live without poetry. It isn’t food. It isn’t water. It isn’t shelter. It’s a form of entertainment. It’s literature. It’s like a pair of sun shades on a Florida beach in June. It sure would be nice to have them but you can wiggle your toes in the sand, get wet, tan your over-toned legs, and get laid without them.
Gen Y’ers know all of this. They don’t care about your sonnet to Kool-Aid. They don’t care that some guy name Charles with a last name they can’t pronounce is the poet laureate. They don’t give a rat’s ass about your frickin’ Pulitzer Prize. They don’t care about that shit. What they do care about is how you will entertain them. If you’re funny and you make them laugh they will like you. If you can write a tragic one-act play and make them cry they will hate you until it’s over then love you forever and tell their friends to go see your play so they can cry too. All you really have to do to get people’s attention in the 21st century is dialog with them, treat them like their human, let them get to know you and through the course of building relationships just let them know what’s important to you. Here’s a one-scene play to illustrate:
Steve: Hey, cool pic. Where’d that come from?
Poet: Hi, thanks. Took that at the beach last summer while I was learning how to surf.
Steve: You surf?
Poet: Naw. I just learned last year. My cousin lives in California and I visited for the summer. We spent the whole summer at the beach so I figured I should learn to surf.
Steve: Wow! Well that shark pic really kills, Dude! Where did you go in Cali?
Poet: San Diego.
Steve: Really? That’s where I am. What beaches did you go to?
Poet: All of them at some point. I wrote a poem about The Strand where that shark pic was shot.
Steve: Oh, you’re a poet? Man, I wish I could write.
Poet: Yeah, I write. Since I was 13. I’m sending the poem. Tell me what you think.
Steve: Dude, that’s awesome! My sister would love this. She writes too. Mind if I share it?
Poet: Nope. Go right ahead. My book is at Amazon. If you care.
Steve: Oh, yeah. I care. I’ll check it out. Gotta go now, though. I’m friending you.
(Steve closes his mobile phone and Poet removes his sun shades, lays them on the table at the side of his bed, closes his eyes. He wakes in two hours to his shades blinking like crazy. He puts them on to find 150 Facebook friend requests.)
OK, this is fiction (obviously). But it represents a stark reality. The Internet is a poet’s friend. There are so many tools that you can use to reach the right audience. Not everyone is interested in poetry. Not everyone cares about poetry. Not everyone will read poetry. But I have shared individual poems with people that I didn’t think would notice. And I’ve shared individual poems with people I had no way of knowing that they’d like it until I asked. The photo of the tattoo at the top of this blog, which I use to invite new subscribers to my e-zine, was acquired through someone I met through StumbleUpon. All I did was ask if I could use it and she told me how to give attribution. It matched something that I wanted to do with a poem. And those are the kinds of things that you can do online that poets could never do before.
One final note (another gem from the article):
No more long boring text! Thanks to constant media input, Gen Y has shorter attention spans and their “grasshopper minds” leap quickly from topic to topic. (They also didn’t read this whole article…too long!)
This blog post is too long. I have this old school habit of loving to write and I write like Herman Melville on speed. I love epics. But the day of the epic is gone (for now). Generation Y likes it short. They also get into multimedia (and podcast), as well as Internet TV. All of these are media that poets can use to reach new audiences. In the 21st century, you don’t find your audience. It finds you. And that’s why poets have no need to cry.