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.

No, Your Story Isn’t Original and That’s Okay: A Brief Essay on Originality

I think it’s safe to say this generation of movie-goers and readers are more analytical about their media consumption than ever before. You needn’t go far to find blogs, vlogs, reviewing sites and more for detailed critiques of just about any form of story-telling you care to think of.

On the one hand, I think this is a good thing. People should demand well-constructive narratives and ideas that challenge them in all forms of media whether they be comics, movies, or books.

Nevertheless, I’m also noticing a trend that has budded as a response to this movement and it’s a bit…annoying.

It’s the perpetuation of an ideology that maintains if anything is even vaguely similar to something else, it’s a knock-off.

The problems with this line of thinking are twofold.

For one, it stunts the growth of future writers because it forces them to live in a constant state of paranoia that their story is a copy of something else.

When Hunger Games was at the pinnacle of its popularity, many people decried it as a knock-off of another novel-turned-movie titled Battle Royal, a story revolving around Japanese students being dropped off on an island by the government and ordered to kill each other.

Now on a superficial level, Hunger Games does sound like its premise was lifted from Battle Royale. However, if you chose to look further and actually read the two books you’ll realize they have basically nothing in common.

(For those of you interested in an explanation of how they differ, I will leave a link here.)

For another, if you think about it, just about every story is a “copy” of another.

Example: Harry Potter is a knock-off of Star Wars.

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No, really.

Think about it.

Both feature orphaned boys raised by their uncle and aunt to believe that they are perfectly normal only for an old family friend to come into their lives and reveal the truth about their lineage.  It then becomes clear they must defeat a great evil, who is much closer to their own identities than they had previously thought, by using the arcane arts.

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Their mentors die which forces them to continue alone, armed only with the wisdom they obtained from their teachings and the love and support of their friends. Both characters must also control their darkness, which threatens to overtake them and makes them more like their arch nemesis than they previously thought.

Oh, and they both refuse to kill the enemy, but the antagonist dies in the end regardless.

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While it’s fun to laugh at how similar these stories seem on the surface, the reason we find it humorous in the first place is because they are vastly different in every other respect.

One is science fiction with fantastical elements sprinkled in, one is fantasy. One takes place in a boarding school in Europe during the 90s, another long ago in a galaxy far, far away. One is about a child, while the other is about a boy in his late teens or early twenties.

The differences go on, but I’ve made my point.

The reason stories fail is not because they are similar to another story. The issue arises when it adds nothing new to the themes that it is trying to present, or it follows the exact same path that its alleged predecessor tread.

The concept of an orphan boy destined for greatness isn’t an idea invented by J.K. Rowling. In fact it’s used so often it borders on cliché. However, the way Rowling implements it is unique because their absence is not used merely as a vehicle to allow Harry to have adventures without parental intervention, or to make him a more sympathetic figure. Harry has no loving family of his own and so his friends become like family to him and the stakes are higher whenever their lives are in peril. He leans more heavily on them than the typical person might, even at that age when friendships are essential to personal and social growth. This forces us, the audience, to become more emotionally engaged in the characters’ fate because without them he has nothing.

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So instead of worrying about how similar your plot or themes are to other works, focus on how you can play with the audience’s expectations and make the story yours. 

Perhaps a subplot in your novel is about a character who wants to avenge a fallen family figure. Typically, at the end, the character decides not to go along with it because murdering that person would make them “just like” that character. However, maybe your character does go along with their plan and is happy with their decision, up until the point where they realize it has changed them for the worst. Your character has then lost a part of themselves they can never get back.

Maybe they aren’t even aware they have been changed by the experience until a trusted friend or family member points it out to them. This creates conflict and makes your character more three-dimensional.

This is only one example. There are tons of different things you can do to make yours story stand apart from other similar works.

Above all else, make sure to put a bit of your soul into everything your write. I know it sounds corny, but there is only one and your thoughts and opinions are your own.

Explore your identity.

Ask yourself why you believe what you believe. Dig deeper into ideas that might confuse you, or frustrate you about other works of fiction.

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And remember, in spite of what Cinema Sins may tell you–

*grabs megaphone*

Tropes are not clichés!

Thanks for reading!

Word Count Goals

I see tweets all the time about writing goals. Goals are good. Goals help motivate. But I’ve never been good at them.

Deadlines help but I still struggle to meet them. A friend of mine gave me a deadline for two weeks and I think I emailed her the finished project about a month later.

Word goals? Forget about it.

I’ve had enough of those from years and years of being a student, trying desperately to meet the criteria for an essay, that I’m not putting myself though that sort of torture for a creative writing project.

In my mind, it’s time to stop writing when it’s time to stop writing.

A story ends when it’s over.

Usually, I feel that little inkling inside when the story’s events are coming to a close, and I try to listen to that sensation. I’ve never been good with numbers so I don’t take much notice of whether my work is 60k or 20k.

I only care about pacing and giving my plot room to breathe.

Everything else is semantics in my mind.

I’m glad the word count method works for some people, I just don’t think it’s right for me.