amongst books

amongst books

Friday, August 27, 2010

20 minute rant-the naysayer

“Poetry today is shit” and similar comments burn my keyster. often the person hasn’t read any contemporary poetry and if they’ve read it i have to question whether they’ve tried to engage with it at all.

what i haven’t seen from these naysayers is any attempt to study, read or write about the writing they so easily dismiss.

i’m not saying there’s no such thing as bad poetry. i see my fair share, particularly as an editor. poor imitations of Dylan Thomas abound. i see many narcissistic little diatribes about broken love affairs with end rhyme and precious fonts. however, even in these poems, there is usually a line or a possibility that gives me hope. i hope that these writers try to read broadly and improve. and that is sometimes what happens.

this is common in a lot of early, unpublished work. the best way to improve for these writers is to ignore the loving comments of relatives, attend some workshops and share their work with other writers, learning how to give and receive editing advice.

however most of the negative comments i’ve heard about poetry are directed at published works. one problem with making sweeping pejorative generalizations about poetry is that it can be disheartening to those who spend a lot of time trying to write it. no one wants to pen crap, but if what one has written isn’t good, it is preferable to have the so-called critic explain in some detail what about the poem or the collection doesn’t work.

it also gives the impression that we are drowning in a pool of doggerel and that it’s pointless to read and to write poetry. that is silly and depressing. i don’t always enjoy every poetry collection i read, but i have enjoyed some stellar collections, some poems where lines and images continue to stay in my mind long after i’ve read them and end up inspiring me to write more. when a piece of writing doesn’t work for a reader, it is often or perhaps mostly subjective. i would like these naysayers to recognize this instead of making their sweeping statements. if you make such, i will challenge you. i will ask you for specific examples.

i understand that it is human nature to piss on people’s cornflakes, to act the curmudgeon. by acting such a lot of people think they raise their status with their peers. but i think it is small minded and ignorant to be negative without attempting to engage.

i am very interested in serious engagements with a work. i don’t mind seeing a negative review if it approaches the work on its own terms and reviewers make some attempt to familiarize themselves with the writer’s oeuvre, rather than basing their comments on one single collection or comparing the writing to something it is not trying to be.

but these all encompassing dismissals of poetry make no sense to me. i think the naysayer is missing out. i prefer to have my mind expanded and when i don’t understand or don’t like something, that is usually an indicator that i should explore further.

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