Monday, August 10, 2009

Bad Poetry

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.

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.


annaken said...

I am sure that you must feel somewhat discouraged that your advice (suggestions) were not followed.

Isn't it the right of every person to make their own decisions, especially when it comes to their own work?

I remember listening to a friend's problems for years and giving my two cents worth. As I was outside of her situation, I could see it more clearly than she could.

In all the years of listening and offering practical "suggestions", I cannot seem to remember her taking any of them.

However, that is her perfect right and it is, after all, her life and her choices and she must live with the consequences.

In many ways, your friend has chosen to walk his own path and "do his own thing".

You can but advise according to your knowledge and then step back and let the person walk on their own path.

One learns that when raising children - a very hard lesson.

I wish your friend luck and I do feel sympathy for you as well.

Been there, done that and life moves on and so do we....

Pearl said...

yes, that's frustrating. been there.

Jefferson said...

annaken, it wasn't advice - it was instruction that he paid for. all that went down the tubes when he couldn't or wouldn't aply what he learned. he could quote what i told him but without direct supervision he went back to writing doggerel, roses are red violets are blue sugar is sweet and i love you kind of stuff.

annaken said...

Good evening Jefferson,

Ah, it was paid work. I guess you now understand how teachers and professors feel when they spend hours imparting their knowledge and it goes in one ear and out the other. It is a pity though, and I feel for you.