Unpopular Opinion: The Current State of Poetry

While poetry isn’t my favorite medium, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Edgar Allen Poe’s Alone speaks to me in ways few other works ever have. The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe gets my heart pounding with its haunting lyricism and captivating imagery.

Poetry in itself is a small miracle, able to impart a whole cornucopia of emotion in such a small amount of time.

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That being said, my appreciation of poetry has waned over the past few years and I think it may have something to do with how much it has changed.

It’s not like I didn’t expected poetry to evolve.

The world is becoming a different place and, as such, the arts are destined to change with it lest they become irrelevant.

It was destined to leave the loving arms of William Carlos Williams and Emily Dickinson to make its own way in the world.

But post-modern poetry is like a child from a super-protective household that became hooked on cocaine in college and drop out to live in a Los Angeles slum.

Some of the more recent poems I’ve seen published in books and lit mags don’t even seem like they should count as poetry. This may sound harsh, but hear me out.

I willl come–

across poems

written

like this for

no particular reason

that breaks off at

random

like

this

They are so distracting visually it’s impossible not to imagine William Shatner narrating them.

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I realize “free-verse poetry” is a thing, but shouldn’t there be some logical structure? If not, aren’t the words just floating around aimlessly?

Often times there will be no rhyme scheme or word-pictures to make them pop either so my mind instantaneously purges them as soon as I’m done reading.

I literally cannot remember these poems five minutes after I’ve read them. 

When the poet does attempt to create a word-picture, the metaphors tend to be so muddled and confusing I honestly have no idea what they are talking about.

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Is that meant to be part of the fun? Just figuring out what the poem is supposed to be about? The titles are no help either. A poem that details a burning forest could be called “Tapioca Pudding.” 

Is that in reference to the fire reducing everything to sludge? Is that the color of wood after it has burned? 

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I’ve taken many an English class, studied the creative arts year after year, yet I’m no closer to determining if these poems are deep or dumb.

Do I just not “get” it?

Oh God, am I a boomer?

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*Sigh*

Then….. there’s slam poetry.

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Slam Poetry has been around since the 80s, but it has risen to prominence over the last decade, especially in academic circles  and….I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps all the political and social issues of the day have inspired creatives to take to the stage to express their angst in a more public forum.

Regardless of how much passion or earnestness is put into the construction of these pieces….can we admit that it’s super corny 99.9% of the time?

It’s not necessarily the poems themselves. It’s a combination of the half-baked stanzas with overly-dramatic readings that would give an acting coach a hernia.

I can’t think of a single one I’ve witnessed that didn’t make me want to chloroform myself mid-performance.

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How all slam poems sound to me

I understand how important your subject matter is, but saying something dramatically does not make it deep. If I recited I’m a Little Teapot while doing interpretive dance, it’s not going to give the song a new meaning. It’s still about a teapot being short and being tipped over to pour liquid in a cup for someone to drink.

…Now I want someone to write a slam remix of I’m a Little Teapot. It would have made that awkward Ashley Judd poetry reading way more interesting.

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I. Am. A. Naaaaasty little teapot.”

For those of you that write and enjoy post-modern poetry, I’m genuinely happy for you.

I am pleased that you can derive meaning from something and be inspired to create as a result of it.

But I think I will continue to appreciate your passion from far, far away.

Ode to the Worst Poet in the World

Over the years, I’ve been forced to read many a poem, and, while I can appreciate the effort it takes to compose one, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the art form.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a favorite poet.

During my trip to Scotland last year, I came across a plaque dedicated to the supposed worst poet in the world, William Topaz McGonagall. Prior to my visit, I’d never heard of this man and so decided to conduct a more thorough investigation of him once I returned to the states.

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The person from whom Professor McGonagall gets her name. Fanficton prompt: McGonagall tries to write poetry in her off-hours, but HP’s shenanigans keep getting in the way.

McGonagall was a weaver whom, at the age of 52, was suddenly struck by the idea that he should quit his job and make poetry his life’s vocation.

He was very prolific and composed around 215 poems over the course of several years, all of which covered a wide range of topics from the military, to famous people, to current events.

Apparently his poetry was so awful that it was a common practice for the city folk to throw rotten vegetables at him and jeer during his recitals.

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Example of his work:

Welcome! thrice welcome! to the year 1893,
For it is the year I intend to leave Dundee,
Owing to the treatment I receive,
Which does my heart sadly grieve.
Every morning when I go out
The ignorant rabble they do shout
‘There goes Mad McGonagall’
In derisive shouts as loud as they can bawl,
And lifts stones and snowballs, throws them at me;
And such actions are shameful to be heard in the city of Dundee.
And I’m ashamed, kind Christians, to confess
That from the Magistrates I can get no redress.
Therefore I have made up my mind in the year of 1893
To leave the ancient City of Dundee,
Because the citizens and me cannot agree.
The reason why? — because they disrespect me,
Which makes me feel rather discontent.
Therefore to leave them I am bent;
And I will make my arrangements without delay,
And leave Dundee some early day.

McGonagall was so convinced that he was a misunderstood genius that he walked 50 miles to gain the patronage of Queen Victoria, only to be told when he arrived to leave and never come back.

Knowing all of this, I think it’s difficult not to love the guy. Not only did he quit his job to do what he loved at a time when this most assuredly meant starvation, he would not let anyone convince him he shouldn’t write.

Was he an egotist? Oh yeah. In fact he seemed to be so oblivious to how bad of a writer he was that some historians are convinced it was all an act. Me, I’m not so sure.

McGonagall may have died a virtually penniless laughingstock, but there’s a bit of poetic irony to this story.

In spite of all the backlash his poetry received, every single one of McGonagall’s poems has been published. More to the point, his name and his legacy have endured centuries while other more talented poets have died forgotten.

As much as the cliché of following your dreams gets thrown around, it seems to have benefitted McGonagall. He didn’t let anyone persuade him to retire his quill and as a result he has earned himself a place in history.

It’s at the back of the bus with no air conditioning and a five year-old continuously kicking the headrest, but it’s a place nonetheless.

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If someone like McGonagall can make his dreams come true, than by God so can we.