For the past hundred years or so, poetry — like many of the other arts — has been at war with itself. The rejection of historical models for new forms (what the art critic Robert Hughes refers to as the “shock of the new”) has left many readers confused. The rejection of rhyme for free verse, the oral tradition for concrete poetry, the tactile oeuvre for performance art… Each step forward baffles, and disconcerts the uninitiated in the audience. To those not “up” with the latest styles, it all seems more like hijinks than high art.
So here we stand — artists and audience — on either side of the chasm. The artists sneering at the “popular” audience, as a preemptive attack against their likely response. And the audience poo-pooing the artists as haughty and incomprehensible, for making them feel uninformed.