On the Death of the Neo-Pastoral


A poetics manifesto.

This portfolio represents a reaction against stultifying trends in contemporary poetry. Outside performance genres such as music and slam, modern poetry has an overwhelming tendency towards banality. Poignancy is intended, but the trick has become stale. Neo-pastoral arrhythmic free verse is contemporary in 2010, but in future years will appear very dated. The style is not timeless. This portfolio tries to reconceptualise “high poetic register”. Milton and Donne used the language of their day, but not conversational language—they utilised more elevated rhetoric. I have attempted to emulate this using 21st-century language—not archaism or anachronism, simply speech which is not locked inseparably to the present.
My first three poems loosely embody this. For example, “Filth” uses high rhetoric to discuss modern ecological issues. My fourth, “To Pay the Ferryman”, is more direct. The subject matter is timeless—the apocalypse is always current. Technically, it questions contemporary abandonment of form. Its form is contemporary – verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown, chorus. It beggars belief how, when some of the greatest words of the past century use rigid rock-song formats, “serious” poets can be so arch regarding form. Free verse is a tool, not a requirement.
“The Gumpies” is both a light-hearted conclusion, and an example that high poetic register need not mean cinematic strife—just allowing poetics to reach beyond the everyday. To speak in a voice that rings out above the featureless swamp of neo-pastoral mumbles.

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