“Had the ancient Greeks rowed a trireme (boat) to the moon, you can bet there would be a 12-volume epic about that adventure.”
– Christian Bök, in Maclean’s
Poets, says Christian Bök, have spent too much time writing about their own mundane problems when amazing achievements of mankind have been happening all around them. And he’s right – ancient Greeks certainly would’ve written epics about the moon landing.
But hey, poetry is not exactly considered the cool thing to do anymore, unlike in ancient Greek where a good epic could spice up a boring evening with friends. We’re much more likely to make a movie or pop song about it – though a quick browse of Wikipedia reveals the moon landing has mostly only inspired TV films. And I’ve got a bit of an ambivalent attitude to poetry myself, and how it fits into our culture today. Sure, poetry is great and really can stretch the capabilities of language. But so much of it comes off as pretentious. Or too dense to make heads or tails of its meaning. It’s not exactly what people turn on to relax, because it actually takes work to understand.
However, the current trend in spoken word poetry is fantastic. After all, poetry started as a spoken art form, and its written form sometimes doesn’t achieve the effect it should. But spoken word poetry is straightforward, rhythmic, thought-provoking… it uses all the skill of stringing the right words together, without pounding the listener over the head with how ‘deep’ it is. (At least, not the ones I’ve heard – it sounds a bit like rap, if you’re wondering what I mean. There’s millions of videos out there on Youtube.) An epic poem in this format could be the next big thing!
The other thing to consider, though, when wondering about the lack of poetry about the moon landings, is the actual place of the moon landings in our lives. For the ancient Greeks, the moon landing would’ve been stupendous – a quick reading of Homer reveals most of them were pretty pessimistic about man’s ability to control nature like that. But for us, it’s merely in the middle of a long list of stuff humanity is able to do, maybe listed underneath the amount of information you can stick on a iPhone and how thin we can make a laptop screen. Amazing stuff doesn’t make us blink anymore. It’s just expected. Why make an epic poem about it when it’ll be old news tomorrow?
But an epic poem about the moon landings – a really well-written one – could open our eyes to how unbelievable our lifestyles are. How we take for granted the insane technological systems we use everyday. And maybe, just maybe, it could teach us to appreciate the right use of words, and the beauty of language, once again.
My poetry skill isn’t exactly up to that. Any volunteers?