Nevertheless, to satisfy my own curiosity I decided answer my question myself, by simply typing “Can Poetry Matter” into Google and seeing what came up.
In a 1997 article entitled Does Poetry Matter: The Culture of Poetry, originally a talk at a Raven Chronicles poetry forum, poet Bart Baxter starts off in an amusing fashion:
Before I begin my prepared remarks, let me ask for a show of hands in the audience, a scrupulously honest show of hands. How many of you here tonight are poets? [Half the audience raised hands.] How many of you would like to be a poet, have maybe written some verse, are looking for a publisher? [1/4 raised hands.] And how many here are friends of the moderator or someone on the panel? [1/4 raised hands.] Now, everyone in the audience who did not fall into any one of those three categories, who did not raise your hands before, please raise your hands now. [One hand was raised.]
I think if Dana Gioia were here tonight, he would simply say: I rest my case.
In this short article, Baxter gives a good synopsis of Gioia’s main points in Can Poetry Matter, and describes also how his opinion has since changed since writing that article:
Dana Gioia wrote "Can Poetry Matter?" long before he realized what was going on in the urban centers across the country, in the night clubs and cabarets, at the Greenmill Tavern in Chicago and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York, at the open readings and poetry slams. In a lecture he presented at Poets House in New York on October 26 , which became an essay published in Poetry Flash, "Notes Toward a New Bohemia," his greatest fears about the future of poetry seem to be assuaged.
Everyone likes to sound authoritative in his opinions, but it’s getting harder and harder these days to say anything authoritative about anything. We have to give Gioia an E (Excellent) for Effort. In Bohemia, Gioia concludes along these lines (quoting again from the Baxter article):
The primary means of publication of new poetry is now oral. This applies to older established poets as well as new unknowns.Anyway, I have more to report, particularly from the side that finds the whole debate tedious as hell, that says poetry is just fine on the margins. Attitudes I also appreciate, in my way. But I’m running out of steam here, and this post is has gotten rather long. Stay tuned.
2. This represents an enormous paradigm shift away from print culture, in that:
a. The government is neither involved with subsidizing events nor appointing particular poets.
b. The physical audience listening to poetry greatly outnumbers the people who read poetry in books. (Do we need one more professor to tell us that the important thing is whether the poem will translate from the "stage to the page"?).
3. This is a populist revolution, a distinct move from print to oral tradition, largely among groups long alien to the traditional, dominant, literary, academic culture:
a. e.g., rap lyrics, in music and poetry.
b. Cowboy poetry.
c. Poetry slams.
4. Surprisingly, most of this new populist poetry is formal:
a. e.g., the four-stress lines in rap.
b. The English ballad form in cowboy poetry.
c. The merger of poetry and experimental theater in performance poetry at poetry slams often uses elaborate rhyme schemes.
5. As for the University, an institution better equipped to preserve old culture than foster the creation of new art, it will probably hold on dearly to Modernism, and will continue to do so until Post-modern poetry's last gasp.