Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
– Thomas Gray, 18th century English poet
Poetry is a hoax perpetrated by educated people to confuse and anger the rest of us.
– Rat, Pearls Before Swine
Okay, here was that post that was either going to delight or infuriate readers.
I had a few discussions over the last year with a couple of other writers about starting my own speculative magazine. It’s something for the horizon, that I haven’t put a great deal of thought into. Anyway, at some point, someone asked me, "Are you going to accept poetry too?"
My reflexive answer – which came out so fast I was surprised – was, "Hell, no."
I get that it’s supposed to be the raw outpouring of emotional fire, straight from the heart and loins of the author, without all that logic getting in the way. But of the two quotes above, the second one reflects my true feelings. Like Rat, I can’t help but feel that poetry is an enormous fraud. I don’t get angry reading it but I do get mighty confused. Being a Type A personality, I’d rather have my lungs pulled out through my anus than try to puzzle through some garbled labyrinth of meaning, at the end of which, the author says, "It means whatever you want it to mean." This is especially true if the author has just the faintest air of condescension in their voice. I get the same feelings when viewing abstract art, and usually have the same sneering poseur calling me a rube for not getting it – or for daring to try to get it.
Well, then why did I bother to read it? Being talked down to by some supercilious author doesn’t entertain me (this applies to prose too, but at least if I can enjoy the story, I don’t have to get his/her so-clever message). Rather than read that dreck, I could have spent my time thinking about Kate Beckinsale in a leather corset, cracking a whip and asking me if I’ve been a bad boy.
There are exceptions that prove the rule, of course. I think Antigonish is brilliant. But look at it: it reads like prose. It’s concrete; there’s little ambiguity about what’s happening to the narrator, about the imagery, or about what emotions are imparted. Now compare that with something like The Waste Land. Half the internet entries have an explanation of the poem that is longer than the poem itself, and a number of them differ on details. Some cite that as superiority of the poetic form – as in, Eliot was able to express in fewer words in poetry than he could have in prose. WTF? I read it myself but most of it flew past me. That may be time displacement; Eliot may have been commenting on his contemporary society, which I am too young to have known. Irrelevant. If I need to read an elongated explanation just to understand a 3500 word poem – a poem that is partially written in another @^&*%$ language – then I say screw it. I’ll stick with prose.
Say what you will: that I’m too dumb to get it, that I was abused by a poet as a child, etc. There are a lot of markets for it but if I ever have my own, I won’t accept poetry. Not even if it’s good….because if I think it’s good, then I probably got it wrong.
Maybe I’ll get struck by lightning one day and finally understand both the fascination with and purpose of poetry. Until then, I’ll just have to stick to boring ‘ole prose.