July 17, 2008

Those were really good poems that took me somewhere else. I love poetry that can do this.
- this and other comments in this entry culled from a poetry competition thread


The premise was to share poetry, to say something positive about each poem submitted, and to choose a best poem. The purpose turned out not to share a single thing which could in any way be perceived as the poem being less than perfect. Any word which could suggest ways to better the poem was deemed unacceptable, because poetry was seen as too personal.

(By the time I discovered this I had already dropped in a poem, since the thread had instantly evoked a full-fledged poem into the empty mirror, one which seems to show to others each their own reflection, and that does not often happen.)
Isn't the whole point of poetry to evoke an emotional response rather than an analytical one? How can anyone analyse something that has come from the soul of another?
In the absence of any critical analysis whatsoever, the only way to deem one poem better than another is to determine how well it fits one's personal expectations and desires of poetry. These choices, in turn, are an expression of the reader's personality and paradigm. Even an innocuous empathy absolutely depends on some degree of shared experience. If a thing, drawn by one, cannot be imagined by another, where lies the responsibility? and yet the fault will inevitably be assigned by the reader entirely to the writer.

Thus, not to allow critique necessarily (and ironically) defaults entirely to a judging of the writer's character, and specifically to whether what a writer has to say holds any value or is acceptable or indeed can even have meaning within the reader's worldview. In this way, in the name of kindness and courtesy and respect of personal space, a clear us-them polarity has been established, based on which values are shared and which ones are ... less acceptable.
Sure, just as it is the point of television or a piece of popular fiction to entertain. But if that piece of popular fiction is written poorly or ineffectively, it fails in its purpose. The same can be said of poetry. While the medium is certainly more open than prose, if something is just poorly written or uses incorrect words, it doesn't do anyone any good because it is not evoking anything except frustration with its lack of style.
The function of poetry is an ancient debate, in western thought going back at least as far as Plato. Other cultures have deemed it madness, a technical multilayered play, a true insight, a challenge to the reader, a release -- but until these years, none who have left significant writing for us to read have deemed it simple entertainment, basing its value primarily (if not solely) on its ability to transport a person to another place, and considering its chosen wording and style only insofar as they enhance or might get in the way of that transport.

I don't know right and wrong. I do know that I have seen an increasing trend, in prose and poetry alike, to write only what is on the surface and never seek another layer, and indeed often to reject any such layering as deception at best, lying at worst. When I read the so-called sequels to Frank Herbert's Dune universe ... I don't know what to say, except only that the writers of those sequels seem to have understood (or perhaps looked for) only a very, very tiny part of Herbert's vision: and in their writing, they seek to make that not only the only relevant part, but the entirety.

And a new generation will grow up reading these new novels, and think they speak for the whole.
If a writer really wants to improve their work there are plenty of places to get raked through the coals on this site.
As it happens, there were not then, and still are not now. How can there be a place for true poetic critique where there is no desire to be critiqued?

I will let another comment on that thread also have the final word:

[P]oetry, above all else is personal. It's much like singing, where you stick everything out there for all to see. ... some writers are so used to giving and taking criticism that they don't understand that it's ok to go somewhere for the sole purpose of relaxation, free from judgement. ... If that's seen by some as being too Pollyanna, then they simply don't appreciate the cleansing nature of occasional escape. Or perhaps their lives contain less everyday stress and they don't need the welcome relief of a good natured slap on the back.

Comments: Post a Comment



<< Home