“The Gothic fate of poor slain Poetry is the specter at this dwindling feast,” says Bruce Sterling in a lucid but overblown survey of challenges to contemporary literature.
The overblown parts, I suspect, really come down to the aging Bruce Sterling’s changed habits as a reader. One of the best lucid points is how the impossibility of forming a contemporary canon is going to be a big challenge for writers. About ten years ago, it was assumed that the canon only served to keep certain people out. Now it looks like it’s crucial to keep anyone in the game.
But the poetry comparison doesn’t serve the purpose I think he thinks it does. Poetry isn’t slain. As Charles Bernstein pointed out in 1999, the best way to celebrate poetry in contemporary society would be to ban it for a month, not force it down people’s throats. High-brow poetry might be in a rough state as a publishing proposition. But beyond that, poetry permeates all the arts that are meant to have annihilated it. Try writing a movie poster tag line that doesn’t depend on poetic tricks discovered over 2000 years for its effects, for instance. The 19th century novel already survives as the formula that every Hollywood movie follows.