your poetry and ‘poetry’

Justin writes: “I really don’t think too many poets out there are as concerned as one might think about the ‘present condition/state’ of poetry, or even its future. I think most poets are entirely too self-centered to even begin to consider the world around them, even the world of poetry.”

My question is: Is it such an either/or proposition? Are focusing on your own work and being interested in the state of poetry mutually exclusive activities?

What I tend to find is that while I remain generally interested in ‘the state of poetry’, it’s in a very other-planetly sort of way, entirely divorced from my own work and struggles and dilemmas as a practicing poet.

Would it be more or less helpful to me as an aspiring poet to have a clearer idea about exactly where on that distant other planet called ‘poetry’ my work fits, where it originated and where it might be headed? Do others feel an organic connection between their own work and ‘poetry’?

I honestly have no idea.


is being mysterious and not at the moment enlightening our particular corner of darkness.

We asked before: What is engaged poetry?

Is it (1) a way of writing stamped by awareness of creating one’s own meaning and values, refusing convention, choosing and deciding minute by minute, living in doubt, regarding nothing as ever settled?

Or is engaged poetry (2) political advocacy – soap-boxing for the rights of one or another of a range of oppressed social groups?

(Sidebar question: May we legitimately consider humanity an “oppressed social group”? Is us against the gods existentially the same as us-human-Group-A against them-human-Group-B?)

Question: Is there a difference between (1) and (2)?

Yes. The first, necessarily, is an existentially creative mode, and a solitary mode (Sidebar question: Which mode of those two comes first?).

The second is a solidarity-based mode, and therefore more likely to be (but not necessarily?) existentially imitative.

The only thing I will point out to all whose heads are exploding at this point is that Scavella started it. Heh.

value of a poem?

I don’t think anyone does it (i.e. write poems) for the money and I never thought about how much poetry might earn for me, except possibly to think that it couldn’t possibly earn anything much. Yes, I know I’m a know-nothing, but somehow, focusing this afternoon for the first time, I am simultaneously disturbed and comforted to see (for random example) that the The Stick Man Review pays $10 a poem. With a maximum of $20 per author. (Per issue?) I mean, what does this mean, exactly? A million questions spring to mind, among them: do I have to pay taxes on the $10? and WTF?!  Surely it makes more sense to offer nothing than it does to offer $10 in the case of poetry….?

More stuff on critiquing

Some interesting feedback on my recent fretting posts about critiquing – its value, necessity, perils, etc. There seems to be a general feeling among readers that critiquing in the open blogsphere (heh, I like that expression and concept) is indeed a perilous operation and not, in general, a game worth the candle. It interferes with inter-blogger relations and leads to all sorts of bad feelings. Unless it is specifically requested, it seems that presenting critique to anyone’s published-on-their-blog poetry is pretty much a Category One breach of blogger etiquette and generates varieties of grief one is generally more comfortable without. (This in the not-actually-published sphere. I’ve only had very minor experience in the actually-published sphere so far and am hoping what I’ve run into so far is not typical.)

So one thinks – as one surely always should, whatever the topic at hand -: Things are this way, but should they be this way?

As noted previously, I was much struck by this comment by grapez:  

A better man than me would point to the sentiment and dog and honor the humane intent, but a better man than me wouldn’t understand the damage a bad poem can wreak. Someone has to warn the unsuspecting public of condemned buildings. Someone has to help the architect avoid the crooked nail.

Optic on the public good. Nice one, indeed. One reader (Rob Mackenzie, quoted with permission) had this really interesting response to my speculationing on grapez’ comment:

..this kind of lyric poem – the domestic scene, the flat language, the false epiphany, and the fakery of emotion (no one really gets so paranoid over the possibility of stepping on a dog – one simply is careful with one's steps, and the whole idea of oneness with the silence of the walls etc. blaaagh!) - is so ubiquitous in poetry magazines today. It has become almost the only style of poem that some editors receive and publish. Some readers, I am sure, can imagine no other poem having currency in today's poetry scene. These poems are the Simply Red, or perhaps even the faceless boy bands / girl bands of contemporary poetry. Popular, populist, but unmemorable. The lyric flourishes cover for their lack of a human heart. Scratch the surface and they’re gone…

If Rob is right (and I suspect he is), more power to him and grapez for saying/doing something about it. 

To continue: I went to grapez and asked him about what he said, and he said, as you will have read at the link above (and NB, grapez, should you happen to read this: the visual verification box in your comment box is messed up – one can’t comment on your blog, it seems):

.. this concept has actually been behind the “Show” since I restarted it a few weeks ago. And I’m verily struggling with it still. I believe in the power of positive criticism. Yet I know from past experience that “positive” does not necessarily mean benign. There’s a fine line there, and I’m hesitant to cross it, yet I fear I cross it every day. One of the things I’m most anxious to stress is that I’m criticizing the poem and not the poet. I wish this exercise to be as impersonal as possible fully understanding that most poets including myself take their finished work much too personally. Nevertheless, the work is there alone.

I’m hearing and really applauding this attitude. grapez continues:

Personally, if pushed to define my ‘crusade’, it’s one against the crushing weight of secular materialism. Too much poetry has bought into this ‘religion’ and prides itself on tradition or progression, without questioning the underlying field such a game is played on whatsoever.

OK, this is paradigmatic and I need to think about it. Personally, I agree that no-one can crusade too hard or too long against secular materialism as a general matter, but seeing it put up as a prism/paradigm for evaluating poetry makes me stop and think. Because it makes poetry political? I’ve ranted on about political/ committed poetry before, but this seems different, way out of that league. I’m not sure, but I think this makes me uncomfortable because it limits good poetry to a particular ideological focus. Surely secular materialism, like religious ascetism (or any other paradigmatic –ism), can produce both good poetry and bad poetry. Surely? Is it reasonable to blame the –ism for the poetry?  OK, now I’m developing a mental squint and need to go away and think some more. In any event, major kudos to grapez for both tackling and trying to implement a practical response to such sweeping questions. grapez notes that his thoughts on this topic are still a work in progress and still await refining — I look forward to following his thought development on this one.

Critiquing for the public good & evil poems

Hm. Just when you thought you had at least the ghost of a handle on something, someone else comes along with a whole new handle, from a different planet altogether. Check this out and I quote:

A better man than me would point to the sentiment and dog and honor the humane intent, but a better man than me wouldn’t understand the damage a bad poem can wreak. Someone has to warn the unsuspecting public of condemned buildings. Someone has to help the architect avoid the crooked nail.Critiquing for the public good, huh? Well, all power and the most excellent of karma to g r a p e z,  but I’ll hold off thinking about checking that particular box until I have a good few more years at this lark under my belt. But!  What is this about “the damage a bad poem can wreak”? I thought bad poems just fell wailing into oblivion, or got crushed to nothing by the inexorable weight of neglect. That bad poems are active proponents of any kind of evil had not occurred to me. They are? 

No-one ever tells me anything.

Needing help out of a small box

I feel I’m in a very small box here. Still thinking about committed poetry, which I finally begin to consider less tangentially to other stuff (such as how to get first grade homework done so the first grader actually does most of it and what to give a six-year-old with a dry cough so both of you can sleep most of the night?). How demented is that appellation, committed? Maybe I’m just small-minded – hopefully I am – understanding committed poetry as poetry denouncing a) some regime and/or b) some real or perceived discrimination against a minority group, with the two not being mutually exclusive. I don’t have anything particularly for or against such poetry at this point, but do wonder about both how it is classified and classifies itself in poetry circles. I am familiar with gay advocacy poetry and some women’s advocacy poetry, but surely those genres are a tip of the iceberg? My question remains: how come one (that would be me) rarely comes across committed poetry in mainstream internet poetry venues? Am I visting the wrong venues?