Some of my poems obviously became more public recently; significantly, to some of my family members who don’t usually read any poetry, let alone mine. My mom said they were ‘weird’ (though my brother said they were “dope”!) and I got a few glazed-eye responses from others. I realized it’s been a while since I’ve talked to people who are very much outside the poetry sphere about poetry, and I was curious to get a sense of what people think of it these days.
I could have asked friends on facebook but worried they might be too sparing – so I headed over to the AskMeFi section at the community blog Metafilter and asked a question: Why not poetry?
I got over a hundred and thirty responses. Its worth reading – a lot repeat what’s already said, but there’s some thoughtful and sobering comments in there (sobering if you’re a poet, but maybe reassuring if you’re someone who can’t stomach the stuff; you’re far from alone.)
Some of them were expected : That it requires a lot of work/attention, it lacks plot, it’s too personal or navel-gazey, the signal-to-noise ratio is too high to find the good stuff. I’ve heard a lot of these complaints from poets, too.
Actually, the ‘ personal’ thing has interested me for a bit, because I don’t think a lot of my work as very personal. I remember being asked how do you share something so personal and it was like, does an architect have doubts about designing a building because it’s too personal?
(Sincere apologies to architects for the comparison.)
One of the things that surprised me was the pining over the lack of rhyme and meter in contemporary poetry. What I’ve noticed is that unless you’re terribly good at it, most poets get laughed out the room when they do it (I must admit I roll my eyes at a lot of it.) I suspect that a lot of people exposure to poetry in highschool was a lot of Shakespeare, and it’s hard to see the kind of fragmented, stream-of-consciousness of today’s poetry as, well, poetry. This is a issue with education and I’d like to think it’s changed but I don’t know for sure.
Relatedly, there were a few people who said they get their poetry fix from lyrics in music and I can definitely relate to that. In my young years, before I actively read much poetry, I probably would have said my main poetic inspiration were Nirvana or R.E.M. A good melody with the right delivery can make the simplest of phrases feel like gospel.
I want to respond to a lot of the comments but I’d like to keep the dialogue going with the obvious questions: How can poets address these issues? Does it require sacrificing some of its qualities to be able to connect with people who don’t like the stuff? What are the cultural perceptions of poetry (that the only way to read it is to decipher it, scalpel in hand, for example) that are misguided? Should poetry try to incorporate other mediums or forms to get their work across? Why are we being cryptic and alienating; or is just that the whole idea is to distress or obfuscate meaning? What are poets that are generally liked by the masses doing differently? Should we ban the popular style of precious drawn-out-monotone readings that makes me want to stab myself with nearby dinner utensils?
Feel free to use the comment section to voice your thoughts! I’ll leave you with one of the the many comments I enjoyed from the thread:
“There are individual poems that I love with a great fierceness, but poetry as a genre leaves me cold for the reasons others have already mentioned. It’s so hard for someone to do it well, and when it’s done badly it’s so much worse than bad prose. I think there’s actually a lot of amazing poetry in the world right now, but it might be in the form of song lyrics, or kids books, or advertising jingles, or, I don’t know, LOLcat captions… Basically, the more someone insists that poetry is completely different from all of those things, the more I tend to expect their poetry will be inward-focused, pretentious twaddle. Those that focus less on what their work is called and/or if it’s going to earn them the proper academic credibility, and more on describing a piece of life in an accurate, relateable way, tend to be the ones that can unexpectedly gut-punch me with laughter, or sadness, or fear, which I’ve always felt was one of poetry’s strengths as a form.”
posted by MsMolly at 1:41 PM on April 27
Happy Nearly-Over Poetry Month Everyone!