This is not a Why poetry sucks or poetry is something writers do when they can't write node.

A conversation in which I told someone that I didn't like poetry brought to my attention the fact that the poetry that I dislike so much is not in fact all poetry as I believed, but instead was the type of poetry here within the confines of E2.

In my mind, the space taken up by poetry can be much better filled with more information about whatever the writer is trying to convey, rather than the flowery phrases, pretty words that are mostly redundant.

This is partially because of my belief that the feeling, emotion and message behind the words are more important than the words themselves. Surely this sours my opinion of the pieces that I am describing, but I do not think that the opinion is unique to myself, nor that it is unwarranted.

To the people here, it seems that poetry to them is attempting to take the simplest concepts, or the most common concepts and then expand them, fill them with ambiguities, adjectives and fluff until they have at least tripled the necessary length of their writing.This is definitely not the case for all the poetry here, and lots of pieces deal with highly complex and emotionally charged issues, and I respect that, but even in these cases the writers seemed plagued with the same need to overly expand their ideas.

At a certain point, description and imagery stop being beautiful and graceful and instead become nothing more than the reader's attempt at showing off the extent of their vocabulary. While there is nothing particularly wrong with doing that, when doing so starts to overshadow the meaning of the written piece, the it becomes detrimental and as I stated above, the beauty stops.

And that would have to be the biggest problem that I have with the poetry here.

The meaning and the beauty that is in the writer's mind as they write the piece loses the focus, and beyond that, there is no more enjoyment in reading the piece than there is in reading a slab of a dictionary or thesaurus.

Poetry is what I begin to write,
When the house becomes so quiet at night,
And upon me grows a strange sensation,
Caused by mute sensory deprivation.

Emotions well-up deep inside of me,
Words, leap from my fingers to be set free,
With little regard for figures or facts,
Or for the Reader's actute sense of tact.

Such lies lay within the information,
On the above generalization,
Of what poetry here does mean to me,
It need not all be, "pretty words," you see?

Like putting your words into a strict form,
A challenge against writing to the norm,
"A challenge," I say!! Can you be able?
To guess the rules of this foolish fable?

Updated 3/17/01:

So it is obvious that if I let the above poem stand alone it will get downvoted into oblivion. No matter that it tries to make several points, albeit not clearly:

  • Poetry need not all be figurative language and "pretty words."
  • It need not always be a vocabulary exercise either.
  • Some poetry is written just for the challenge of writing to a form.
  • Sometimes the challenge of doing so can create interesting wit within the prose.
  • Not all language, even on e2, should need to be clear. Sometimes the author wishes to challenge the reader.
  • This is an artform...after all.

the feeling, emotion and message behind the words are more important than the words themselves

So declares Gemini a foundation belief in the purpose of language, and it is one purpose of language, but not the only one. The failure of words in this world to express so much that can't be expressed in words has been itself the purpose of so much poetry, as well as philosophy (see Wallace Stevens' The Whole of Harmonium), as well as the anguish of many a teenager--myself included.

The analysis of poetry, as I have discussed in poetry analysis, is as much about heavy lifting as it is about the actual imparting of information between two, or more people.

How hard that is to understand, in a world where the transfer of information is measured down into bits per second--a baud. How hard it is for any artist to exist in this world where their very stock in trade--the medium itself--has been denigrated to something less that 1's and 0's.

I mostly agree with knifegirl's critique:

Why paint when you can just take a picture? Why compose music when words are so much more straightforward?

Even the use of straightforward words is fraught with risk! Meaning, the understanding of a poem is not other words; it is the words themselves.

Having said that, I do agree that some poetry on E2, like poetry elsewhere, doesn't work.

Yes, sometimes the words fail--the rope breaks, to use the metaphor of poetry analysis. Much poetry is indeed failed experiment, but no more than the expressions of children learning to use the language.

We are beings that live in language. Often it fails, but often, it lifts us to something beyond what we think, what we say--giving us a feeling of something beyond.

I would like to thank Gemini for this opportunity to disagree; and I have tried to use it in the spirit it was offered. I don't like to pass up opportunities to confront ideas.

Just because you write in verse doesn't make you a poet.

A lot of people attack poetry based on things they read on E2, Livejournal, and Slate. I say that a lot of what you read in places like that isn't really poetry.

Imagine you have never played an instrument in your life. Suddenly, you get a Sax. You think to yourself "Hey! I've got a sax here, now I'm a musician." Yet, you are so green you don't even know how to put a reed on the instrument. So you watch other saxophonists and figure out that if you put the reed on after wetting it first in your mouth, then blow into the mouthpiece and press some keys, sounds will come out of the bell. Pretty damn neat for someone who's never played. However, I ask you this question...

Does this make that person a saxophonist?

Does it even make this person a musician? I would say no. This person has the potential, like we all do, to learn how to play with training. But with very few exceptions, no one can pick up an instrument and just play it. Not even something rudimentary like Three Blind Mice. Most likely what you will get a bunch of squeaking and a lot of displeased listeners.

Now most of what a lot of people have seen on places like E2 is the poetic equivalent of that unfortunate saxophonist. They have discovered a term "Free verse". They have also discovered that they can hold a pen in their hands and write words. But writing words in free verse is no more poetry than the untrained squeaking of that green saxophonist.

People condemn modern poetry and say that most of it sucks because of what they read from people who are not really poets. They feel that good poets are in the minority and largely in the past. To an untrained and uneducated (in poetry) reader these squeaking and painful collection of words might appear to be poetry. However, I would say they are not. This is why many readers think that the 18th century had better poems, but what they don't realize is that they are reading the cream of the crop and that most of the poetry of that era was just as bad as the stuff we see on E2. If I were to ask one of these people to explain to me what a masculine ending was, what a spondee was, what an anapest is, they wouldn't be able to tell me. That is because they are untrained. Just like the new saxophonist wouldn't be able to circular breathe and then play in the altissimo register.

So what does make someone a poet and not a poser?

There are several things that come into this. These rules are identical in all art. After a while you discover that there is very little difference between all art, regardless of whether it is visual, written, performed, or played.

The first is training. There is no way to get around this. You need to be trained in your art. This can be self training, but you need to know the rules of what you are doing. You should be able to follow those rules by heart if needs be. You need to understand why they are there and what they do to enhance the art. Later you can break those rules if you understand them well but it takes a lot of skill and talent to break them. You need to understand a rule and have a reason before you break it.

Second, is a big one. Talent. There needs to be something in you that manifests in this form of art. 50% of all can be taught. The other 50% cannot. Talent is a big part of that. Either you bond with the art or you don't. Either you can see, or you can't. It's not fair, but what is?

Third is the biggest one out there. Tension. All art is formed on tension. All of it. If you take a picture you are trying to create tension between the objects in frame. If you are writing a play, you are looking to create tension between characters. If you are writing a song, you use syncopation to create tension in the music. This is no different for poetry. Every poem should have an innate tension that grabs the reader and holds her until you are finished. If you have done your job correctly you can affect your audience's pulse, emotions, body temperature, etc. This tension is incredibly powerful. It marks the difference between someone telling you that it was "very nice" and someone throwing you down a fucking you because you made them lose control.

Fourth, you need to read what other talented writers are writing. You need to live in your art. 90% of your training is going to come from imitation. Most posers read only their own stuff or they only read what their friends are writing. The end result is a flood of crap that makes my skin crawl.

Fifth, you need to have something to say. In written and visual art this is usually easy. In instrumental pieces, if they are performed well, you do not need lyrics to know what the song is about. In poetry this becomes complicated. Poetry is much more like an orchestra than it is a book. You should never say what you are feeling. Ever. If you say "I am utterly alone" you have already failed. Your goal is to make the reader feel what you are feeling, not to tell the reader what you are feeling. To do this you use the same weapons that a musician uses. You play with tone to create a mood. You play with word choices to evoke emotions without outright saying them. You work with the pace of the piece and the rhythm of a poem to try to bring the reader's body reactions to the same level that yours are. For instance, in a poem about fury you would write using a lot of masculine endings, a lot of spondees, and probably move in an iambic rhythm. The result is that you have a machine gun feel with double accents to emphasize your hatred.

Sixth, never stray into the Cliche, Heavy-handed, or sentimental. That way leads to pain.

So basically, just because you are writing in free verse it doesn't make you a poet. You need to know what you are doing.

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