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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.

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"


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Comments

The following comments are for "The State of Poetry"
by hazelfaern

top marks
I gave this top marks, if only because you raised several points that I myself was feeling compelled to address. In all probability, you said it better.

As a musician, I know exactly what you're talking about. And long before the modern jazz of the 1950's and 60's (guys like Cecil Taylor, etc.), there were similar movements in the arts. The serialism of Arnold Schoenburg comes to mind.

It's an old argument. On the one side, you have people saying that you need order and structure for art to exist, and on the other, you have people saying that to be in accordance with nature, one must necessarily embrace chaos. Easter religion and philosophy certainly tends in that direction, and periodically makes its way into Western thought.

And then there's the old Hellenism-Hebraism thing (faith and reason).

( Posted by: gsmonks [Member] On: February 21, 2004 )

Pathfinder
This is a good rant
but it could
have been a bit better.


(Haiku has to break the shackles of form format and forlon thinkers, fresh wave of Haiku has arrived!!!! As the pathfinder one always faces hard rocks and stubborn dead ends which are to be chipped away, if people at large like it a few ,,,naysayers dont count at all )

( Posted by: rightingit [Member] On: February 21, 2004 )

I completely agree
I love romantic poetry with a passion, but is it safe to say that out loud anymore? There should be a law against certain people trying to write poetry, because it just trivializes the whole thing. And Teen writing forums that say "Oh, this is wonderful" to EVERY DAMN POEM...well, that doesn't help either. I'm going to say that at least eighty percent of people who write poetry nowadays don't even know anything about it. I also blame poetry.com, because it greatly encourages this sort of crap.

( Posted by: Saratin [Member] On: February 21, 2004 )

the rule book
I loved reading this. I agree very much with your ideas. In music I've felt it even more, you can see the progression there, from the strict forms of baroque and classical, to the individualism of Romantic movement, to the discordant and finnaly atonal 'avante garde.' To me, this last approach in great works of music has destroyed it, utterly, as a modern form that the public can appreciate. What remains are the scorewriters, John Williams, who are still able to write music people can enjoy. They still adhere to 'form' 'meter' 'theme' the important ingredients for both music and verse.
Some people do work better without rules, but give me a tempo and cadence, words that run and rhyhm. They'll always be my fav.

( Posted by: Malthis [Member] On: February 21, 2004 )

Not enough "rant"
This piece is very good, but I don't think there is enough "rant" in it. Usually when I think of "rant", I think of the writer acting like a bitch/bastard throughout the piece. Go to www.edthesock.com, (I discovered this site through posting on the forums) go to the "Rants" section of "Audio Clips", listen to a few, and you'll see what I mean here.

You don't get into the "bitchiness" until the seeventh paragraph. The first six paragraphs, I was thinking maybe this belonged in "Opinions" or "Essays." Maybe if you put a little more "bitch" in the first six paragraphs, then I can easily be convinced of this as a rant.

But this is good, nonetheless. You have a focus on the problem with writing as it stands, and you successfully address it as a real problem. My only question is: what do you plan to do to fix this?

Keep it up, and I hope to see some prose from you.

( Posted by: davewriter [Member] On: February 21, 2004 )

judgements
Hey hazel, I definitely liked this rant and to be honest I'm a bit jealous because I wanted to write something along these lines a few months ago and I just couldn't shape it right. I know how you feel, and what's more (I'm depressed alot so) I find myself struggling with the temptation to lap into more trite forms of poetry. I think though, it's important to be aware of oneself and your individual goals. If you just want to use poetry to vent emotions or startle people, so be it. If you have higher standards, I think that's important and you just have to personally adhere to them (not to suggest you don't). We shouldn't be telling others if their work is right or wrong...only making sure it stays out of the academic arena of "serious" poetry. And to be honest, most of those fake pieces art never make it farther than the original artist who soon becomes tired with his or her little game and gives up. *shrugs* It's as poetic as natural selection. ;)

Once again though, I totally feel you and I loved this rant. Take care.

( Posted by: Darkshine Raven [Member] On: February 21, 2004 )

hmmm
Popular opinion is not the only measure of art. ;)

( Posted by: Darkshine Raven [Member] On: February 21, 2004 )

bad art and good art
so many questions, this raises.

what is good painting? what is bad painting? who decides? what is good poetry and what is bad poetry? i feel like i can answer this with more confidence since i am more of a poet than a visual artist. but. i'm also in an arts psychotherapy training program right now where we're encouraged to use all of the arts, both with our clients and in our own studio time. many explorations here, and many surprises. and many humblings. today i screwed around with purple and messed up my brush and hated my painting and then hit something... poked sharp lengths of wire through the painting, forming severe-looking hooks that i hung long, red-brown strips of paper on. it looked like trauma, like pain hanging out to dry. i wept. this was something.

i'm beginning to think that the therapeutic value of creating is always inherent. the program i'm in places incredible value on the idea of low skill/high sensitivity.

for me, in the lit.org setting, the question is: does "bad" poetry belong in front of a wide, online audience? maybe not. so there's a lot of drivel i don't even waste my time commenting on. it's a shame that anything can be called poetry these days, but as darkshine said, at least bad poems don't get too far, not even as far as your current local headcold. sometimes i laugh at the shame that there's no bad poetry category on the site for us to ignore all entries in.

we try. we try our best. and we fail, and drivel all over ourselves, and have the audacity to call our failures great works. i'm becoming convinced that the closer to The Moment i am, the better my poetry will be. but goddamn, it takes a truckload of practice.

( Posted by: ark [Member] On: February 21, 2004 )

Ranting but Not Raving
Thanks for the comments all. I just got out of four hours of really bad traffic and a day out of town, so I just wanted to comment on a few salient points raised here.

I realize this rant starts off slowly, and in a way it could be considered more of an opinion piece. To some degree I wanted to start off gently because this rant was initiated by thoughts sparked by a fellow member's comments. I wanted to raise issues not shout a particular individual down.

I know the argument about standards in Art is an old one. For the record, I'm not so much against chaos as losing whatever meaning the word "poetry" may have left. I do feel any good modern works tend to get drowned out by an overload of celebrity poetry and mid-pubescent thoughts about life and death. I also just got sick as all hell, in college, of having the genius of the Beat poets shoved down my throat.

GSMonks, you've raised an interesting point about Eastern theories penetrating into Western thought. Briefly, from the viewpoint of someone who once lived in Japan and studied Eastern philosophy enough to be familiar with a few more of their philosophers aside from the uiquitous Lao Tsu and Buddha, I think the Eastern concept of chaos is much different from our Western one. To the Western mind the idea of choas is a state of no rules, more akin to the Berserker condition into which Vikings threw themselves in the midst of battle. To the Eastern mind, specifically within Taoism, the concept of chaos is a state of natural balance in which nature moves in a manner irrational to the conscious/linear mind, and peace is found through intuition and immense humility -- the ability to become like water, flowing subtle ever towards the lowest depthes. The difference between the two is the difference between sheer urban noise and finding jazz riffs in birdsong.

Ark -- you bring up an excellent point with therapy and art. I think the therauputic power of art in any form is an undeniable one. I do want to add though that within the context of this site or in any other workshop environment, I don't mind reading "lousy" writing of any kind because the focus tends to be on constructive criticism. I believe that wherever a serious conversation can be had about what is being said, how that meaning is conveyed, where that message fails to connect with it's audience, and how both conveyance and message can be made stronger, any attempt at art is justified in its airing.

Perhaps, my ultimate message is this -- that I want to know any individual who claims the title of poet is serious in their attempt. My outrage is against those who see poetry only as an arena in which their childish fingerpaintings can immediately be considered as art, as having value without the cost of real work.

I feel we've spent enough time, within art, within this culture gaping at nihlism. The feeling of isolation, chaos and lack of meaning in a modern world is real, to be sure. But what comes after nihlism? And as Artists, in any form, shouldn't our ultimate goal be seeking that next step?

( Posted by: hazelfaern [Member] On: February 21, 2004 )

Dear Writing It
To clarify...

This piece was most certainly not about your poem, being as it was but vaguely even concerned with yourself.

The content of this rant, I must admit, *was* sparked by a comment you made. However, my point was chiefly made to redress what I feel is a disturbing lack of interest at working at skill or finesse within the craft of poetry, not specifically in your work or even within this site, but across the entire spectrum of works created in this form.

I strongly feel that you have every right to define your own vision of poetry. Rather than feeling enraged at you, I am mostly piqued by a curiosity regarding the workable parameters of your vision.

My rage, and I should have made this more clear, is a reaction to some trite arrogance regarding the form of poetry which I ran into in college, which your innocent comment brought rampaging back to the foreground of my thoughts. I do not see this tendency as a thing beginning with, or even fully encompassed in, your own methodology. Rather, as I stated early on in this rant, it's a conditional symptom of a movement which dates back to the turn of the 20th century (and therefore, I think, safely predates not only your birth as a writer, but your physical birth, as well)

As to my possible pangs of jealousy concerning your poem, "not a poet", I would like to point out that it had a rather ordingary number of page views prior to the day this rant was published. In addition, a large number of these page views seem to have been sparked by John79's consistent (and somewhat harshly critical) comment posting on that same page. If such astronomical viewings are indeed validations of your talent, wouldn't you have to admit the same validation of evil bacteria's poetry, a writer whose works (judging by your prior low ratings and critical comments) you appear to have a rather dim view of?

( Posted by: hazelfaern [Member] On: February 24, 2004 )

PS
Sorry about the mispelling of your name. I caught this as soon as I'd written it and was planning on correcting it before submitting, but then my memory lapsed. Sorry about the gaffe.

( Posted by: hazelfaern [Member] On: February 24, 2004 )

P.O.E.T.S.
Sorry about the title, but I just had to. It rather amuses me.

I commend your ability to stay level headed and cool about this. The way you presented your argument was admirable, clear cut, easy to read, and flowing. Very well done on that.

I've got almost the same feeling as Darkshine, but I can't be jealous about it, I figure you did a much better job at this idea than I could have on my best day. Well done

-Kitten

( Posted by: Kitten Courna [Member] On: February 26, 2004 )

Cockle-warming Rant
I have said essentially the same thing time and time again on this site. Sadly I have never said it near as cogently nor as eloquently as you have here. My hat is off to you. Okay, I lied, I don't wear a hat... but my shirt is off to you has conotations that are best left unmentioned so I'll stick with hat.

This was stellar work both in terms of your message and the way it was put forawrd. I disagree that Ginsberg was "the seminal" beat poet (At the very least one should look at Burroughs) but that is neither here nor there.

Well thought out, well-written and well argued. Basically well done!

Any chance of making this required reading for new members, and some old ones, Crowe? ;)

Rightingit - B.F. Skinner wrote a book about the psychology of language and it was torn to shreds in a review by Noam Chomsky. This is one of the few times that a review has become more influential than the book that spurred it. You say that Hazel basks in reflected glory, I say that you have nicely played Skinner to her Chomsky.

( Posted by: Enforced Bliss [Member] On: March 1, 2004 )





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