Monday, December 6, 2010

Why Bad Poetry is Bad for Poetry

Walter Benjamin: we have a "gift of seeing resemblances."

Iain McGilchrist: "Imagination is how we know what we know and how we become who we are."

Humans are imitative animals. I'm demonstrating this if nothing else than by these posts from the Good Doctor's Good Book, in which I stop reading because I have "seen a resemblance" between what McGilchrist has written and the reality of poetry.

We imitate what we know.

When we are given "bad poetry" to imitate--poetry that is selfish, that is closeted, that is straight-jacketed by convention (even, perhaps especially, when that convention is "experimentation"), that is, for lack of a better term, bad--we in turn make bad poetry.

The first test of "bad poetry" should be:

does someone who is not a poet like this?

Why, you ask?

It's easy. We process art as a new, whole, living thing--unless it is something we have studied in depth--then we begin to process art with which we are familiar as pieces of a mechanical whole. We artists are only "surprised" by something entirely unexpected--even then we may only appreciate it on a mechanical level; i.e. "oh, that is clever" not "oh, that is Good."

The layman, however, still approaches art as a whole thing alive. If the artificiality of your art for artists means that it does not read as a whole living being to a layman then you have failed--you have made, not art, but a clever imitation of art--that is, you have made "bad art."

So what happens when you, as a jaded artist, continue to appreciate "bad art" for its "cleverness" and then teach this to aspiring artists and laymen?

First is that the aspiring artists learn all the wrong things--they learn to create art for artists' sake, not humanity's. They learn that "cleverness" is to be praised above all else. They learn, in short, to make bad art.

What does the layman learn? He learns that art is not for him and rejects it.

Perhaps he is lucky and encounters a novel that a friend passes on, or notices a particularly beautiful painting or sculpture, sees a great play, and rediscovers art. Note what I have left out--where is that layman to find great poetry?

We have become so dedicated to bad poetry that we have no galleries, no word-of-mouth, no stage for greatness--only hollow planks supporting hollow words.

No wonder we are in a rats' land.

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