Jorie Graham in The Paris Review 2002

I do worry considerably about a reader’s patience—how much mental or emotional space they have in their life in this crushingly full world to give to the reading of a poem. Many of today’s readers prefer fast poems with stated conclusions, partly because they can fit them into their day. Who can blame them? They have precious little time. They want the Cliff Notes to the overwhelmingly huge novel. Of course, it is poetry’s job to try to provide the very opposite—to recomplicate the oversimplified thing. This doesn’t require going on at length—lord knows some of the more complex acts of human awareness occur in Basho. At any rate, it’s not hard to see where the shortened attention span has gotten us, the desire for speed, for the quick rush or take or fix . . .

Some of that is the impact of technology.

Yes, don’t you think? For example, when you have a split tv screen giving you main news (images), secondary news in text (often war facts), weather, stock reports, and even an “update” in the corner, on sports, how is a person—let alone one in a democracy and therefore responsible for clear-headed choice—supposed to feel any of the information she’s gathering? One is reduced to simply scanning the information for its factual content. The emotive content, unless reported to one or rhetorically painted onto it, is gone from the experience. It seems almost in the way. And yet it’s in the overtones of the facts, in the emotive overtones, that much of the real information lies. None of this can be separated out from contemporary poetics. The “multitasking” asked of us by the CNN screen is precisely geared to dissociating our sensibilities. It forces us to “not feel” in the very act of “collecting information.” But what value does information unstained by emotive content have, except a fundamental genius for manipulating dissociated human souls? Why, you can frighten them to the point of inhumanity. You can get them to close their eyes and let you commit murder in their name.

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