If measured in terms of commercial sales, poetry certainly is dead. A strong sales figure for a collection of poems in today’s market is around 5,000 copies.
While many poets, who sell far less, would be delighted with that number, this is far below the benchmark set by commercial fiction or nonfiction—or even literary fiction, for that matter.
It is easy to blame the decline of poetry on the usual suspects: pop music, television, movies—and, of course, the Internet.
Electronic media has certainly provided poetry with stiff competition, just as electronic media has taken a bite out of reading in general.
However, the greater part of the problem lies within poetry itself. Here I refer not to poetry as an art form, but the mindset that has taken root in the community that writes, publishes, and reviews poetry.
In the mid-twentieth century, the academy determined that poetry that was accessible to the average reader was simplistic, bad, sophomoric, etc. Their solution was to replace accessible verse with poems that were obscurantist, stream-of-consciousness, and completely undisciplined.
This was about the time that readers in the English-speaking world began ignoring poetry en masse.
Anyone who wants an example of this tendency can simply read Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl”, which was published in 1955.