Monday, March 31, 2008

What holds us back?

You may have stumbled on to this blog through a lot of places. Half of them try to gut what I'm saying and the other half seem interested. Apart from a general rise in the quality of Strong Verse submissions, I haven't gotten any written feedback. Certainly none in the way of a narrative poem.

I was talking with one of my good friends (who doesn't have a site I can link to, though she teaches here) about this and she said that perhaps poets are afraid to fail.

Perhaps, she said, the reason that poets hide behind the cool Lou Reed shades of impenetrability and the avant garde is that poets are afraid to fail.

After all, the coolest thing about being cool is that no one knows what you're talking about. That's why obscure bands and poets and artists are the very coolest thing of all -- no one knows about them. To make this worse, all the cool cats know all the other cool cats -- and think, like China, that once they know a thing it is known. I.e. if the norms don't know about it it don't matter because they ain't cool.

So, it's cool to write poetry that Nora Roberts, JK Rowling, Walter Mosely, and Stephen King-o-philes will never read or care about because that's what makes the poem cool.

Let me tell you something, poet.

You. Ain't. Cool. (fifty thousand dollars in monopoly money if you can tell me what poet popularized that desecration of syntax -- the one word sentence)

You know why you ain't cool? Because you write poetry. You are a nerd. You are such a nerd that if you don't know the answer to the above challenge you are looking it up right now. That's right. Nerd.

And I know, I KNOW that nerds want to be cool. How? Because I am a nerd.

Guess what? We aren't. We don't play football, we don't sing in rock bands. We don't release rap albums after we're dead. Nope. We just write down fancy words and most of us don't even read them out loud.

This is not cool.

So get over the post-modern desire to be a hipster. You aren't avoiding failure because you're cool -- you are embracing failure because you've isolated yourself so much that your work is completely marginalized.

Americans spend as more on porn every day and a half than they do all year on poetry. You know what this means? This means that the poetry being produced in America is 1/216 as interesting as poorly lighted chickenheads doing the a.t.m. for cash.

You, Mr. and Ms Hipster are not cool. In fact, you are lamer than porn. Seriously. You've got issues.

So what to do about it?

Here's an exercise.

Think about the average American reader. If you aren't sure what this is, imagine that you have never listened to NPR, read the National Review, set foot in Whole Foods, yachted, or gone out of the country. It's okay -- you're only imagining things. You are the average reading American. You graduated High School. You probably went to college. You did not major in English. Heck, you probably skipped the liberal arts all together. You wrote some poetry or had a boyfriend or girlfriend who did. You loved nursery rhymes and Shel Silverstein when you were a kid. You even liked a few poems in your high school English class. Maybe. But then you took Honors English or some required college class where the teacher threw Pound and Ginsberg and Stein at you and pretended they made some obvious sense. This poetry thing was crap. You might have gone with that boy or girlfriend to a "poetry reading" and listened to some Emo kids mumbling into their shoelaces and calling it poetry. This poetry thing was definately crap. Then you got old, you raised kids, and you're sitting in the doctor's office waiting for the Dr. to see your kid with the fever and the snotty nose. You pick up a New Yorker. You see the poem, it's utter nonsense. You remind yourself to read the new Stephen King -- the one where he sets it in Florida -- because you've got to get the taste of meaninglessness out of your mouth.

This is the reader we need to reach -- the reader we're writing for. Don't EVER tell me "I just write for myself." If that is true, then why on earth have I seen your work? Did someone steal it and send it to me? No? Oh that's right, you gave it to me. If you're just writing for yourself, why show your work to anyone?

So you have to write for someone. Don't write for the cool kids -- the hipster empty poets. They clap because they're terrified of silence.

Write for someone who actually exists. Write for someone who might hate your work.

Write for real people.


Charlie Kondek said...

Great manifesto. I agree. What's particularly apt is where the love of reading poetry gets lost somewhere around high school or college. Suddenly you're afraid to admit that you really love Kipling's "If" and Gerard Manley Hopkins so you just chuck the whole thing. Same thing is happening in novels, I'm afraid.

LA Nickers said...

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Writing for real people - who actually read - is it.

Time to get REAL.

Great post.

Nickers and Ink

PS: I'd love for you to check out my poetry blog, Nickers and Ink.

G. M. Palmer said...

Linda -- great to have you here.

I checked out the blog -- fun stuff! -- though I tend to disfavor elision (like ne'er).

Hope the site is instructive and inspiring for you.


Anonymous said...

Great points.

Anonymous said...

Slashing Edits
I do hear you

If I could say
your singing vague words
are too flat, I'd offer
my edits in chorus
but no

From your silence
I can see
you'd prefer
token praise
pathway to hell
for all us untalented

I could do that delusion
for you, as has been done
for me, except that
for the truth of now,
I hate everything foolish
(roses in a vase are dying)

What makes you think
I can't be chic:
I can do hara-kiri --
I've known hunger
and indigestion

A heroic twisting
of the knife
could be poetic
if done
in some colorful venue
for a cause

Bleeding to death
wouldn't seem so bad
if my
painting in red
had a publicist
a patron
and an honest woman
who would cry
as if
my last
with her
were a gift
from the
whisper of desperation

Failing that
there are many wars to join

whichever ending is
as scream
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