I spend a great deal of time thinking about things that have no noticable relevance to whatever it is I happen to actually be doing. Lately, I have been thinking about poetry. I have not been writing poetry, just thinking about it.
I hate poetry these days. I sound like an old person even to myself when I say such things, but that does not change the truth of it. The trouble I see with much of what passes for poetry in these hard times is that it is frequently indistinguishable from prose aside from the weird line breaks.
Case in point:
We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered. –Tom Stoppard
We cross our bridges
When we come to them
And burn them behind us,
Nothing to show for our progress
Except a memory of the smell of smoke,
And a presumption
That once our eyes watered.
Seriously, look at me with a straight face and tell me that you cannot imagine seeing something like that on a plackard labelled “Poetry for Commuters” and slapped up above the window on the bus? In fact, this little quote makes a much better poem than most of what I see on the bus.
It's lovely, sure. It definitely speaks to me, but is it poetry? I think about that as I'm riding in to work in the morning. To be sure, the poetry on the busses seemed to be much better in Houston for some reason. Maybe it's cultural.
Most of what I refer to as my poems fall into the category of “Is it poetry?” I really don't know. There are no rules, you see. I do not know what poetry is, but I know it when I read it?
Sometimes it seems to me that all the free verse ramblings of the beat generation did almost more harm than good to poetry as a mode of literary expression. Poetry seems too easy now. There are no rules! Do as you like! That's all well and good, but is it art?
Making a meaningful poem, with effective imagery that captures the soul and makes one think about important things is difficult. It is not something that just anyone can do who knows how to write the alphabet (or pull magnets from a bag). Forcing oneself to adhere to (perhaps) an arbitrary set of rules makes the exercise not only more difficult, but I think more meaningful as well.
One of my favorite poems of all time is The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot. I have read it, studied it, written papers about it, read it some more, and still it speaks to me every single time. But, what's that you say? It RHYMES??? Oh the horror! How can any good poem actually rhyme!??? None of the poetry written before I was born is worth anything, apparently, due to the fact that much of it follows some sort of rhyming scheme.
Go ahead and laugh. It is funny. I nearly choked on my coffee when I read a critique online of a very cute poem someone had written about the internet. It was certainly not high art, but it was quite humorous and I enjoyed reading it. The critic said something along the lines of, “This is such a crappy poem because it rhymes.” I am paraphrasing because the acutal comment was so assinine that I can't recall it exactly.
Picasso said, “Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.” That, in my opinion is the difference between actual art and someone splattering paint around because they got the mistaken idea that being an artist would be a good way to make a living. It is the same with poetry. It also is not a good way to make a living.
This whole “Everyone can write poetry” thing gets under my skin. It is not that I disagree. I do believe that everyone can write poetry. I just do not believe that everyone can write good poetry. I resent the notion that some people seem to have that they deserve to have their poetry published simply because they wrote it. Especially since I'm not entirely sure whether it even actually qualifies as poetry.
“Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.” –Tom Stoppard again.