Friday, May 6, 2011

Poetry -- how I feel about it this morning

On other days, I have been an opinionated, arrogant jerk about poetry. This morning, I'm a bit loosey-goosey.

I've had it with experts on poetry who think they know what's what. It boils down to this: people write what means something to them, according to their way with words, and offer it as a gift to others. Why get bent out of shape if someone's poems aren't your cup of damn tea? Don't read them. A person will improve through a slow, private, organic process or they won't. But surely not through some cranky pronouncements or some hare-brained technical manual.

I secretly think that a person is born with a flair for words or is not. I secretly think that a poem is received as worthless or as profound according to who is reading it.

People like different stuff. If someone finds value in a velvet Elvis canvas, well, that's what they respond to. If someone else appreciates Rembrandt, Monet, or Picasso, well, that's where it's at for them. Taste follows no rules. It is what it is. Or it is what it becomes through a slow, unfathomable process.

Instead of trying to teach another how to write “proper” poetry by laying down rules, maybe a better plan of action is this: simply suggest that aspirants to poetry read a lot of verse that posterity has smiled on. It boggles my mind to try imagining a poetry class, where the instructor says: “No, no. You didn't write a good poem. Here is how you should have written it.” The “improved” item will now belong to the instructor, not the student.

Good grief!

Poetry is many things. Therefore, it is not one thing. Ha!

It can be lush and sentimental. It can be dry and “important.” It can be sensible or absurd. It can be amorous or political. It can be mean-spirited, jazzy, or quietly thoughtful.The only thing it should strive to be, besides a personal expression, is communicative. Even then, that communication will arc to some while not reaching others.

To think that poetry should be this and not that is silly. It also might be symptomatic of an ego on the fritz.

What in the world is at stake, anyway?

Poetry, like painting or music, has its effect and meaningfulness according to who is reading, viewing, listening. A painting from a master will impress those whose lives have led to a certain sensibility. Others will look on confused or irritated, preferring instead a fast landscape by a street amateur. A vast symphony will bore some to tears – they would rather listen to a drunken polka. That's what they LIKE.

It's all about what different individuals like. There is no rule book or universal prescription about what is correct and about what is wrong with poetry, painting, or music. Life is a fabric of many colors. So is poetry.

Anyway...this is how I think about it this morning. Tomorrow, I might be a jerk again. :)


  1. I owned a store once. We were constantly surprised by the things people would buy. "Never underestimate the bad taste of your customers" we would always say.

    "a poem is received as worthless or as profound according to who is reading it". I absolutely agree. Some people like Hallmark cards. Some people only like poems that rhyme. The more un-poemy it is, the more I tend to like it :)

    But tomorrow I might be someone else!