Futile Feuds of Highfalutin Poets

The Hatfield clan in 1897.
(from Wikipedia)

Can’t we all just get along?

To be such a cultured highfalutin thing, poetry sure has more feuds than the Hatfields and the McCoys.  You know, the legendary warring mountain families from rural West Virginia and Kentucky in the 1800’s.

What is “Real Poetry?”

I am reading a book that argues that “real poetry” is rhyming poetry, not free verse which has dominated the poetry world for years in America.  Others argue that “professional poetry,” whatever that is, must hide meaning from the reader and it certainly can’t be about the mundane stuff of life.  Good poetry must provoke, agonize and engineer social change.

Others say just the opposite, that poetry with an agenda is not art and is merely propaganda.  Some think only observational poetry is authentic.  A recent post by a guest blogger at the Poetry Foundation said that poetry about personal, life, love, agony, etc. makes him pull his hair out.  I’ve argued that poetry that hides the ball makes me pull mine out.  Oh, what a feuding, opinioned bunch we are.

Should style matter?

It is tempting to take an absolutist position when the poetry hierarchy highjacks poetry and declares that all good poetry must adhere to any one form or style.  Why is it that one style has to predominate?  Can we not accommodate a multitude of styles and enjoy the unique qualities each brings. Style is after all a temporary thing.  Styles wax and wane and none of the prior poetry forms mentioned ever really go out of style forever.  They all come back around. 

What is poetry?

My college Literature professor said, “All great Literature is about the movement of the human heart.”  That statement has never left me and I think she nailed it.  All readers of literature are humans and all humans have hearts.  If you don’t move their hearts, it won’t stick with them. What is the first poem you remember?  Why did it stick with you?  Did it move you in some way?  Does it move you still?

Rather than focus so much on style and form, it seems like we would serve our readers better if we focused more on substance and beauty.  Yes, often substance and beauty shine more through good use of form, but not always. Sometimes a story, a narrative, a poem is so powerful that the form is irrelevant. 

What is the point of telling a joke nobody gets?

We are desperately in need of more poetry that:

1.      Grabs you by the throat and forces a knot there
2.      Leaves you misty eyed,
3.      Puts a smile on your lips or
4.      Makes you say, “I never thought of that.”

We are unlikely to reach people by mere form alone.  We reach people when we touch them in some way and not when we impress them with our linguistic gymnastics.  If no one gets the joke, what’s the point of telling it?

What we need is more poetry that moves us!

So, Hatfields and McCoys, let’s put away the guns and daggers.  Let’s welcome all styles and forms into literary journals and help poetry move more human hearts.   Does the world really need more clever style, or does it need more beauty, love and honesty even if raw and real? 


Brigid said...

Ah yes, the rhymers vs. the non-rhymers. As a poet partial to free verse, I feel that in a lot of rhyming poetry, the focus is more on forcing a rhyme (and thereby sacrificing nuances of meaning) than it is on really saying exactly what you want to say. There are, of course, many exceptions by skillful rhymers who are truly masters of the language. On our poetry forum, we have endless discussions on the relative merits of each style. So far, no blood has been shed! :)

Poet on Poetry said...

I like both rhyming and free verse, though like you, I am a little more partial to free verse now. However, good poetry is good poetry regardless of the form like you say! Maybe you should do a guest blog for us?