InFORMing an Audience—Poetry on the 'Net
Had some impetus died? Had some force that, over the centuries, had informed and motivated virtually all the great poetry in the Canons of literature suddenly atrophied and died off in the 20th century? Based on the evidence of what got published in the last 75 years or so, this might be a valid assumption. But it would be wrong. "Traditional" poets still existed; they just couldn't find a significant marketplace for their work. They were out of fashion with the arbiters of taste, who have not lately seemed much in tune with the public, and they wrote, if they wrote much at all, in virtual isolation.
However, in the last two decades of the 20th century, two things happened; the internet was born, and form-loving poets began coming out of the woodwork and clamoring to be heard. How connected are these events? I'm not sure, but they certainly are coincident. The 1980's saw the rise of two closely-related movements back towards poetry's roots; the "New Formalists", and "Expansive Poetry." Both groups (I use "group" in the loosest sense) advocated a return to poetry's roots, and explicitly claimed their right to use whatever poetic traditions or devices suited their own, personal work, without regard to modern "trends" that tend to throw the literary baby out with the bathwater.
The internet has provided these poets (and indeed all poets of whatever stripe or persuasion) with something that had been sorely missing in our fragmented times; a sense of community. For most of the 20th century, the only place where poets could get together to discuss and advance their craft was in the academic environment, and as a natural outgrowth "theory" began to take precedence over what we might call the human poetic impulse. The goal was to create something "new", something "different", a "better way" of singing the human condition. These academic communities were essentially limited gene pools, where the cross-fertilization of ideas was limited to a few intellectual theories that were in no way congruent with the human needs of readers on a large scale. Poetry was being written for an audience of other poets, and it's a sad commentary that it was literally true (and arguably still is) that the number of practictioners of "modern poetry" grew larger than the number of readers attracted to the genre.
Now, with the maturity of the internet, there are thriving poetic communities in terrific abundance. Poets write together in online workshops, critiquing each others' work and discussing the principles of their craft. Prosody, no longer being taught seriously even in MfA programs for writers, had begun making a comeback. Little magazines, "e-zines", are cropping up everywhere. And what we're seeing is that more and more the "formal" poets, the "traditional" poets, are being heard and appreciated. They're not writing quite like the "old masters" did, of course; there's not much of an audience, thank goodness, for regurgitated Elizabethan or Victorian excesses. But the best aspects of the formal feeling are seeing a revival, with excellent work in a modern idiom that still inhabits the finely-wrought continuum that is the historical arc of poetry in English finally receiving its due, and making a comeback even in the "serious" literary magazines that as little as ten years ago almost never published poetry in metrical forms. Tim Murphy, David Mason, A.E. Stallings, Wiley Clements, David Anthony, Diane Thiel, Catherine Tufariello, Rhina Espaillat, Mike Juster, and countless others are being published widely in print and on the 'net, and their work is wonderful and moving to read.