I used to disdain poetry. I wondered, “is there really anything worse?” And I disdained it for what I felt was a very compelling reason: I used to write poetry.
In fact, poetry used to consume me. I was a voracious reader of poetry, and therefore a voracious writer of it. It was an inglorious habit. When you tell people you’re a poet, they imagine the worst of you.
They expect that I have a frilly white shirt in my closet, or that I am compelled to randomly drone on about the “music of the spheres” or spout some kind of bullshit about the “muse.” That I am at any moment’s notice about to leap up and quote myself or am about to challenge any other writer to a “poetry slam.” That I write poems with a quill and an inkwell filled with the contents of ink and my poet tears.
There was once a part of ancient Arabic poetry called “kindling.” This was usually a long series of stanzas where a particular location was described in GREAT (if not excruciating) detail to set up the mood and location of the poem. The color of the leaves would be expounded upon, or the sound or a brook, or what the hell – why not both?
Modern poetry got to the point where there was nothing but kindling with no actual content. Poems about nature are pretty enough, but they are postcards: pretty pictures, but not much of a message.
On the other side of things, there are the poems exclusively about the author. These are navel gazes so intent that the applicability is only to the author themselves. So very self-referential, because the poet finds nothing more fascinating than themselves. They are in their own mind so much that they see nothing else.
I think that I shall always dread a poem chiefly in the head.
These cliches have their source. Poetry suffers from its poets.
But most of all, I mistrusted poetry because it was easy.
I wrote a lot of it a lot of the time and it felt like it spilled out of me easily. I was praised for what I wrote. But then I began to wonder: is anything easy worthwhile? If something just spills out of me, it is spilling or being dislodged?
Perhaps this is the old ex-Protestant in me, but I feel like one has to work hard for their salvation. That anything easily gotten must not be very worthwhile. Perhaps I have forgotten all of the times I failed in writing and how hard I worked and studied to bring myself to whatever destination I wanted to go to.
But I was also afraid of becoming like some kind of asshole; a minor-league Picasso who just scribbled whatever bullshit he thought of to pay a bar tab. I was afraid of getting lazy or cocky or worst of all, boring.
And again, when you are writing poetry you are usually not sitting at the grown-ups table. Poetry has a bad rep now. Or perhaps a well-deserved come down after all the nonsense the beats left us.
So What Is the Use of Poetry Now?
…is a question I have been asking myself for a while. What place does it have in a world where even the novel is dying out?
I think that the chief use of poetry is sharing a universal experience. It is a quick way of bringing a reader to an experience and saying “there! Haven’t you experienced this exact same thing? It is not just so?”
People are not nearly as unique as they think they are. Aside from the biological traits that are common to almost all of us, there are societal pressures and programming that we share in each country, state, city, neighborhood, and family. We have a common tongue, all of us. We speak it sometimes subconsciously. There are ways to communicate this experience. Poetry is one way.
This is something a novel can do only obliquely. It has to draw applicability over a 55,000+ word narrative. Poetry is not so fettered.
The success of poetry is not the hopeless yawp if individuality into the void or a pretty description of foliage. It is the sharing of our commonality. It is a way for the author and reader to connect in a way that prose artists cannot, but in a way music can. We can look through a poem and recognize each other in ourselves. Poetry should be all-inclusive – a shudder of recognizing and the realization that what we go through is not unique or dramatic. That it is shared among everyone.
But poetry is like comedy: when it fails, it fails BIG. It repels rather than draws in.
I think this is why I disdain easy, unworked poetry or poetry slams. Because they seem masturbatory. And it’s this kind of nonsense that gives poetry a bad name. Poetry should be crafted and combed over. Don’t kill your darlings in poetry. Make every line your darling.
Make the poems that speak to you, but make for damned certain that they don’t ONLY speak to you.
Is There Actually a Summary to this Blathering?
Actually, yes. I have decided to write poetry again. Not because the muse demands it or because I am poetic by heart, but because I can see the applicability to it. I can see what use it has in my life and, perhaps more importantly, the use it has in other people’s lives.
I think that most poetry suffers from an “I” problem. Poetry has turned within so much that it is uninviting to others. It’s poetry, not therapy. Bring other people into your mind. Share it.
It is a way to de-isolate people. Show everyone that they are not alone in their experiences. Or if they feel alone, WE feel alone. And I will start by showing myself the very same thing.