Born to a middle class family, by the age of 7 years old, Edna was being brought up by a single mother of three girls. Always encouraged by her mother to be self reliant and determined, she was introduced by her, to classical literature and music. While attending high school, where she was editor in chief of the school newspaper, her first great poem, Renascence, was published in an anthology called the Lyric Year, in 1912 (The Academy of American Poets). She was able to attend Vassar, subsequently with the help of a wealthy benefactor. Millay established her bisexuality, while at Vassar, as she had several relationships with students there.
She continued to write plays as well as poems, and by her graduation, in 1917, she published Renascence and other Poems. After graduation, she moved to New York, and settled in Greenwich Village (Answers. com). She supported herself by writing short stories under the assumed name of Nancy Boyd. She also befriended many of the prominent artists of the time as well as political activists. Her second published works came in 1920, under the name A Few Twigs For Thistle, where she advocated feminism. By 1923, her fourth opus was published, The Harp Weaver, in which the poem, being born a woman and distressed was published.
This literary masterpiece will confirm her as one of the most gifted writers of her time by granting the first Pulitzer Prize for poetry ever bestowed on a woman. She continued to write on till her death in 1950. Even though towards the end of her life she was more an engaged writer than the lyrical one of her beginnings, Millay left us with an indelible awareness on such themes as social consciousness, feminism and life in general (Gale). So why I ask again, is poetry an endangered art, with such tremendous legends such as Millay.
We know that poetry is a literary art form but why has it become only available to a privileged few? But then one could retort, how is it so when academic writing programs, creative writing classes, subsidized magazines proliferate? Unknowingly, they have contributed to the isolation of poetry from the masses (Gioia). Having being educated in the French system, I always have been confronted to poetry. Whether in elementary school where we were taught poems by Paul Verlaine, Jacques Prevert or Jean de la Fontaine, the imagery of verse was used to enlighten our artistic knowledge.
In middle school and then high school, our education of poetry was used more to teach about literature and language. Texts by Appollinaire, Charles Baudelaire, Boris Vian or Rimbaud were taught to us. No longer did we just learn and then recite them, but the meaning, influences, and themes were explored enabling us a better grasp of the art form. This not only created future creative writers but fervent and faithful poetry readers for years to come. Then it might be useful for me to rephrase my question: why is poetry an endangered art on this side of the Atlantic?
Well as I indicated, changing the educational curriculum would have a positive effect. Here, in the United States, only a selected few are exposed to poetry in their high school years, and only by choice. Poetry is not part of the basic curriculum. Enlightening our young readers, early on would broaden the literary horizon. That is not to say that for those selected few who are familiar with the art form, this does not create enthusiasm and maybe career choices. But then once they are on the professional path they restrict themselves to their peers.
In the 1960s, poetry was not only an art form but a movement. Poets were activists and marginalized, actively part of the social and political forefront. When going to a poetry reading, one would here works by not only the speaker, but other authors as well, the goal of the reading was to publically celebrate the art form while getting a message across. Now, these same authors are relegated to the confines of academia, and specialized peer reviews. By elevating and revering poetry, publishers, journalists, and poets themselves have isolated it to the elitists few.
Bringing back the weekly reviews, publishing poems in mass media, and giving it back to the masses, would give it a new life. Poetry is certainly not dead, but like any endangered species, it is living in a small community, among its peers. And although it lives in academia, bringing it to the young malleable minds early on in school would assure its growing, continued and sustained life. Making poetry part of the educational program like math, history and social sciences would guarantee that poetry be available to all at all stages of their life.