This is a truly sad state of affairs, and I say this as someone who firmly believed in the death of poetry not all that long ago. Think about your poetry education. What did you study? How many of the poems you read were written after 1900? You probably had a bit of Frost and Sandburg, maybe someone threw a Beat your way (probably Ginsberg, and probably in college), but you almost certainly did not read anything published after 1970, or if you did, it was only a very, very few pieces. No wonder the modern student thinks that poetry isn't relevant. For the most part, their teachers don't think it's relevant either.
I don't want to turn this into a research essay, but a casual perusal of recent studies will show you that the bulk of teacher training programs in English language arts do not focus on poetry as a real and viable medium. It is posited as a method for exploring sensory language and literary form and devices, but the focus often is simply on "getting it" as though poetry needs to 1) be decoded and, 2) has a single "correct" answer that is absolute. If you can examine the pieces of it enough and apply a bit of the Sherlock Holmes methodology to it, solving for "x" is elementary. Poetry is rarely seen in this context as a method for exploring history or the human condition. It's not seen as a voice for sociopolitical protest or deepening understanding of the human condition. It's a puzzle to be solved quickly and then we can move on to more relevant literature.
This is especially vexing considering the push in the public K-12 system to focus on more contemporary literature in the fiction and drama curricula. Across the country, high school and even middle school educators are discovering the value in teaching contemporary works as part of the fiction and drama portions of their educational plans, but for some reason the study of poetry is still firmly rooted in the "masters."
How many Elizabethan sonnets can you sit through before you start to believe that poetry is not a living form of expression anymore?
The sad part is, reality could not be further from the truth. There is an explosion of exciting, cutting edge contemporary poetry being produced and released on a weekly basis in the United States alone. The current issues of our times are being addressed directly by poets of today in elegant, eloquent, but also accessible language that has the complexity of "formalist" poetry. I have found in my own teaching that presenting students with contemporary voices shows them a side of poetry they did not know existed before. Students can become excited about poetry if we present them with poetry worth being excited about--poetry that actually appeals to them and their conditions--and if we are excited about poetry ourselves.
To do this, we must begin to address the lack of education in our teacher training programs regarding the inclusion of contemporary poetry in the curriculum. We need to increase teachers' comfort levels with poetry so they are willing to teach it beyond the bare minimum necessary to complete a standardized exam. We also need to be open to a larger view of poetry, as well as the writing of it as part of the curriculum. The steady march towards assessment-centered (or assessment-obsessive) education has crippled the realm of creative expression within the English classroom. If your job depends on your students' performance on a series of tests and none of those tests is going to measure their ability to create fiction, poetry, non-fiction, or drama of their own, then why are you going to incorporate it into the curriculum at the risk of losing your job and having your students fail the exams?
Exposing students to contemporary poetry--through written poems, slam and performance poetry, and writing poetry of their own--helps to maintain the cultural legacy of poetry as an art form. It's a proud but diminishing history that we have injured through neglect and abuse. It's also a legacy of self-expression that can provide adolescents with a productive and creative outlet for processing their emotions and beliefs in a time when their understanding of both is changing on a fundamental level. By depriving them of this resource, we do them a fundamental injustice and possibly a great deal of damage as we leave the achievement of personal exploration, development, and understanding to a therapeutic setting rather than helping them to find the means to conduct those conversations within and amongst themselves.
When I started writing poetry, it changed my life at the most essential level. I processed traumas and feelings I had been either dealing with or avoiding for years, and within a very short period of time, I was a much more well-adjusted person, capable of maintaining my own equilibrium not just because I wrote poetry, but because poetry had taught me the psychological skill of self-reflection and self-examination that is so important to emotional health. Think of what that could do in the hands of an adolescent population?