A heart-to-heart discussion with a friend and fellow "poet" left me thinking about bad poetry, what it is and what causes it. When I met him years ago, his writing held some promise and I encouraged him, showed him the kind of changes to make to his work so that it would be more acceptable and understandable, more catching to the eye and ear. I continued over the years to press him to advance his knowledge of poetry, how it works, how it is structured. Now it seems all my effort was for naught.
He showed me a manuscript he wanted to prepare for publication. Some of the poems he'd sent to me over the years for comment and advice, and I had freely given it. The problem I could so easily see was that he had done nothing with the advice: no rewrite, no structural changes, nothing. The best of the poems he presented we had worked on together twenty years before when I was explaining the basics of writing poetry to him. Since then, nothing had changed; he hadn't moved forward in his knowledge and understanding of poetry.
He said he had a whole file of poetry that he thought wasn't worth much. I asked him how he differentiated between the two. It came out that if someone said they liked it, or approved in any way, he kept it. Otherwise it went into this file. Neither was worked on again.
If only he could move beyong rhymimg couplets; if only his rhyming couplets had regular rhythms. If only he could get away from "fact" into the realm of simile, of metaphor, of the many nuances of language that is poetry. If only he could begin with a feeling rather than an experience. If only he would read and study others. If only he could be less self-centered and more aware of everything around him, not just the little bits that touch him directly.
I haven't given up on him, not completely. Meanwhile he continues to write bad poetry, and inflict it on others who will say they like it out of pity or ignorance.
There have been bad poets before. I had the dubious honour of exploring the work of Hamilton's William Murray. In the nineteenth century there was James McIntyre of Ingersoll with his poems in praise of cheese. And the Scot William MacGonagall with poems of death and disaster. Poets who could not see or would not recognize their limitations.
And so the tradition continues.