I was commenting on the standard form of a haiku yesterday, when one of the members of this site fell into a description of his vision of poetry: Break all the rules! Forget rhyme schemesÖ write only what you feel! Confront readers with chaos! Then later writers will say I led the way! (Iím paraphrasing, here) These comments brought up such a well of interrelated thoughts; I considered it best to pour them into a rant, here, rather than taking up a half-page in the comments section.
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Gently, Iíd like to say that breaking into free-verse and confronting readers with chaos is not only nothing new in poetry, Iíd dare say itís the standard both in writing as well as Art. The influence of jazz made free verse popular with the Beat poets over 50 years ago. Those scandalous writers (for their time) drew not only on music but other literary forefathers like Walt Whitman, who threw down a gauntlet to Romanticism with his enduring work ďLeaves of GrassĒ, where he challenged contemporary poetic and literary mores with his celebration of the individual self set quite apart from rhyme schemes and polished etiquette.
The seminal Beat poet Allen Ginsburg has left his own indelible mark upon the current state of poetry. He moved from the Beat movement in the 50ís directly into the Hippie movement of the 60ís, organizing be-ins and poetry readings and championing all forms of poetry whether they were accepted by the critical literary establishment, or not (mostly not, but then ďHowlĒ nearly killed off their import and relevance, anyway). He continued to work tirelessly within the field of poetry up until his recent death in the late 1990ís. In a way you could say he is the last immortal poet of our age (how many other poets could your average non-English-majoring college student name, if any at all after Byron, Shakespeare, Shelly, the BrowningsÖ all such antiquated writers from so very long ago) In a way you could lay the current condition of poetry at his feet as both a blessing and a bitter curse.
Yes, Iím quite familiar with this modern tack. I fell so in love with it in my fourth grade English class, where a lightly tanned boy named Joseph would stand up and read to us his random thoughts about shark dreams and colors as works of poetry. His little free-verse ramblings always ended with comic book words, like after thought captions: slam, whiz, ow! Look out! They were just so much more captivating than any of our standard old poems, and the freedom I glimpsed in that free style set my head abuzz with visions of glory in a few short lines.
I fell decidedly out of love with this ideology in college after countless creative writing readings where hipply frazzled students stood up to mutter out some random melodramatic lines about heartache, their first acid trip, loneliness (in truth, this description sounds better than the actual experience, which as a writer felt like watching a demonstration of pulling teeth) It was these incoherent artifacts served up as poetry which lit my fire and made me seethe. How inconsiderate, how crass, how galling for a writer to display not only such complete ignorance of the potential history of his/her audiences own experiences, but such complete unawareness of literary history! Itís not the struggling attempts at gaining a foothold in the craft of writing which frustrated me, but the endless process of one negligent line of drivel following the next without bothering to aim at a subject, without attempting to fine tune the process, without reaching for any kind of a level of skill or finesse.
You must understand, Poetry is my love, my home country, and my chosen craft. When I see poetry satirized in sit-coms as an endless hipster hobby of snapping fingers and tirades against the establishment; when I read Neil Gaiman quoted as hoping to God that comic books donít go the way of poetry and into oblivious irrelevance; when the Poet Laureate of the United States publicly fantasizes about telling that banker off who mentioned dryly that his 14 year old writes poetry, too, by quipping that he found his 9 year old playing with change on the living room floor; I become enraged. I want to take back every modern notion about writing, art, and specifically about poetry.
No! It is not acceptable to simply type the word red on a page and laughingly call it poetry. No! It is not all right or all good for you to ramble on for three pages about how sad you felt when he left you, in prose detail, and call this poetry. NO! It is not fine and well for you to describe in vivid detail how difficult it was for you to take a **** and how much you wanted a lover before you died, Allen Ginsburg, and Iíll be glad to never see the word Mullog printed in a poetic work, again! And I donít give a damn about blackbirds or how delicious those misbegotten plums were, Carlos Castenada!
Give me back those quotable lines of thoughtful, deliberate works, which every knowing urbanite had to memorize, even pithily. Bring back meaning, the provocation of setting and real irony, which isnít about plastic sforks but about finding God in the slightest details. Bring back grace, a lilting meter, reverence, beauty, thoughtfulness, but most of all the sense of craft which is what made Poetry important once, and the lack of which has made Poetry a decapitalized plaything for fourteen year old girls dreaming of pretty unicorns and valiant Prince Charmings.
I have nothing against a modern sense of nihilism or despair. I have nothing against unicorns or, indeed, any element of fairytales. However, consider that in order to reach the full status of Bards, ancient Irish Ollaves had to pass through a difficult 12-year course and seven degrees which measured their highly criticized talent. Irish master-poets were considered of such significance, they sat next to the king in the dining hall. In contrast, their contemporaries, Welsh Bards, whose training was much less rigorous, were considered merely the tenth dignitary of the court and seated next to the heir apparent, being considered more or less equal with the Chief Smith.
Today, there are no schools for poets, no prerequisites for writing. The door is thrown wide open to any fool who considers himself a poet or bothers to claim two lines on the subject of traffic or fashion as an example of this craft.
So, no, I donít see a need for modern poets to be prodded into saying what they like or challenged into breaking the rules. Canít you see that the rules are already meaningless and worse than useless? Canít you see that chaos has only degraded the craft within which you say you are working?
I, myself, have seen enough, and I want the self-indulgent and mindless drivel to stop.
"All the darkness in the world
cannot put out the light
of one candle"