I think we need to accept that most poetry is shit.
There; strong opening, potentially confrontational opinion on the state of something that, for hundreds of years, has been a severe cornerstone of the literary world. Perhaps I’ll get the hang of this social media/blogging thing yet! Anyway, that’s a statement I’ll stand by and, I think (perhaps foolishly) that most people will agree with me. Now, I know a few people who instantly react to statements like that, and many would immediately retort with the argument that most poetry is fantastic.
So anyway, here’re my reasons for believing in the above; if you agree, or disagree, let me know and we can have a proper literary argument about it – doesn’t that sound like fun?
Why Is Poetry Shit?
Obviously, I want to clarify before I get started that not all poetry is shit, just like all video games aren’t terrible, not all music is horrible and not all art is a waste of time. I’m also not saying that the Wigan poetry I write, or the fragments which occasionally stray into the poetic, are exempt from this rule; it isn’t like I’m putting myself above it all as the God of Poetry and, to be honest, that sounds like a horrible title anyway.
Poetry Is Supremely Personal
A lot of poets have done their very best to make their poetry easily accessible and understandable by a wide audience and, occasionally, this is done successfully. The only problem I have with it is that poetry, in my opinion, needs to be far more personal than literature – it is someone trying to pass on a message, express something, in the best way possible for them.
Poetry then isn’t necessarily the ideal tool for connecting with a supreme mass audience, and the best poetry that I’ve read is hugely personal – for all that I’ve gone on about the Nemzeti Dal in the past few weeks, I wouldn’t say that is a particularly personal work; nor is it necessarily a poem that I would say is one of the best ever written.
Poetry needs to strike a chord, right in the soul, a perfect power chord that rattles the heart and the brain and makes the lungs wheeze in breathlessness. There aren’t many poems that have done it to me, even though I’ve been searching for them.
Unfortunately, thanks to the diverse readership, the same poems don’t appeal to everyone. In fact, those that truly love poetry seem to find the poems that appeal to them and, when they’re talking about the world of poetry, they focus on them and forget that there is a wide world of literature out there which is, for the most part, not something that would appeal to them.
Everyone Thinks They Can Write Poetry
I mean, this isn’t a bad thing, of course – Hell, if not anyone could write it then I definitely wouldn’t be able to – but this means that a lot of people with really nothing to say, no message to impart or no sense of stylisation take to their keyboards and hammer out any old drivel so long as it rhymes.
This is probably a symptom of a much wider ideology, that anyone can write – again, I support the idea in notion (it isn’t like I have a choice) but not when people write who have nothing to say and can’t even express the fact that they nothing to say.
It’s A Bit Emotional At Times
I like emotion, don’t get me wrong, but when you read a poem from a fourteen-year-old, middle class, white girl explaining how horrifying her life is, it’s easy to lose sympathy and malign all poetry as the same. Misery, it seems, is all too easy to express in literature (believe me, I know – a lot of my stuff turns out pretty Nihilistic as well), and too much misery can make a person lose sympathy in a very short piece of time.
Another issue is that people tend to associate the idea of ‘depth’ with poetry, like the writer must be concerned with subject of great import, and they must be intellectual and honest and able to plumb the depths of their own soul; the only problem with that is, it’s bullshit.
The Bukowski Effect
I’ve heard a lot of ‘highly intellectual’ people malign the poetry of Bukowski in the past. In the New Yorker, a journalist once referred to Bukowski’s poetry as “a highly coloured, morally uncomplicated cartoon of the real thing”. Bukowski’s poetry had this simple, brutality to it that was reminiscent of the man himself, brooding and drunk and so often penniless – Bukowski’s life certainly became one of the new archetypes of the writer, moving on from elegant, upper-class people swanning around Europe and so forth.
Even The Best Poets Produce Crap
Speaking of Bukowski, I know many writers are ashamed to admit that he was an influence on them, but he was responsible for some truly breath-taking work – Bluebird, for example. One thing I tend not to understand, however, is how so many people tend to say that they love a poet’s work when the fact of the matter is, most poetry produced by even the greats, is shit.
I recently bought a collection of T.S. Elliot poems (go charity stores where you can buy books for a pound!). I already liked Wasteland, I already loved The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock and so, like many people, I assumed that the rest of his work would speak to me so strongly. Christ, was I wrong! Half of the collection is sheer drivel, with little point to it even though there is the occasionally pretty term or turn of phrase. Even then, in those poems that I did like, it normally came down to a few lines redeeming the entire thing! (I’m talking about the bit about the Street Piano.)
For further evidence, we’ll move onto one of my favourite poets of all time – Mr. Allen Ginsberg! Howl, of course, is a masterpiece, as is Kaddish, but I think it was Death To Van Gogh’s Ear which stuck with me after reading the poems I didn’t already know. Even then, of course, it was in the Ginsbergian style and very similar to the latter parts of Howl. Much of the rest of the collection I, simply, forgot.
What Do You Think?
Do you agree with me that most poetry is shit, or is all poetry amazing simply by virtue of being poetry? I’m really interested in what other people think about this, and if you’ve got any poets to recommend as being exceptions to the rule, or if you write poetry yourself, I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading; let me know what you think!