Monday, December 03, 2007

In Poetry Thou Shall Not Trust

I’ve been working with poetry for the last two days. When I’m away from it for a while I always forget how hard it is, how frustrating. It doesn’t take long to relearn that fact. I grew up thinking I disliked poetry. That was because I’d never read Dylan Thomas, or Poe, or Blake, or Coleridge, or even Kipling. Thomas opened the door for me, and the others swept through on his heels. For a while I considered myself a poet, albeit not a terribly talented one. Eventually I realized that I could say what I wanted much better through stories than poetry, and over the past seven years I’ve written less and less of it. But I’ve never given it up, despite moments of absolute despair over my ability to craft a poem of use.

Many of the early poems I had published I despise now. They seem so artificial, so contrived. They lack grace at their best, and at worst they are pretentious. At times they irritate me by their very existence. At other times I feel silly and pretentious for even saying I despise them. Somebody liked them. Some bodies even paid me money for some of them. Who am I to feel superior to those who wanted my youthful drivel. Or perhaps I’m completely wrong. Perhaps those early efforts were the only true and honest poetry I’ve ever written; perhaps it is today’s work that is contrived.

You see how difficult it is? How can poetry possibly be judged? How can one even make a stab at an objective evaluation? Or do I just sound insane? Poetry will do that to you. It will drive you mad. But I believe it’s important.

I just don’t know why.


Alone with the walls
Emptied of center
In a cold place
With the shadows
And the broken blades
Quiet as stones
Twisted as hearts
Praying for silence
Praying for hope
And no one


Donnetta said...

Hi, Charles. I don't know how poetry can really be judged. It's such a "feeling" medium and has to speak to the individual. It either touches you, moves you, or it doesn't. It's either meant for you, or it isn't. I loved this poem, by the way. Guess it called my name. There are very few poems that pull me in. I haven't tried to write any poetry in some time. Maybe I'll give it a go soon. Write some more, Charles!

Travis Cody said...

The thing I've found about poetry is that I either like it or I don't.

The one you posted...I like it.

And I've felt that particular insanity when I've re-read some of my early work.

Lana Gramlich said...

I like Robert Blake...but I love you. You wrote a poem about your dad that made me cry. Blake never did that for me.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that peotry can be judged as such. I do believe that there is some poetry that we all tend prefer, somehow.

SzélsőFa said...

Sometimes I despise what I wrote earlier, sometimes I just don't feel them anymore...
And there are poems I wrote and I still like :)

Each poem is a part of your soul and if that special part of you changes, you will not feel connected to the poem anymore.

The idea of 'absolute poems' as referred to by Wayne makes me shake my head in disbelief.
But I'd like to be proven wrong!

the walking man said...

Poetry in specific really can not be judged as to quality by it's author...too close to it. It, imho, must be judged by the reader or audience it is presented too.

Personally it is a rare day when I intentionally revisit anything I write, except the novel length pieces, because they always need working on, but the poetry, I wrote it and that's that.

For the past year it has appeared on TWM and nowhere else except for a few readings. I know I don't like it when people don't get what I am saying but then the fault is mine for not being so abstract in the thought of and writing of it.

It is not easy to say something with meter and flow as it would be to say it direct but presented in the right way a piece of poetry can have a much deeper response from the "audience," which is the point of it.

This piece you put here Charles is OK. Not great, like say Stephen Crane, but ok and worth a public reading.



miller580 said...

Oh how I so agree with you. I have a small chunk of hard drive that is dedicated to my (is it poetry or is it drivel) poetic ramblings. And because I love the taste of envelop glue, maybe, just maybe, over break, I am going to go through them pick 10-12 and submit.

The first creative writing class I took, I had to write 5 poems...I never wrote poems before then. I wrote about 10-15. I received positive response. My next teacher, I asked him to read and he told me that "prose" was definitely my wheelhouse.

Last year I took a poetry class and workshopped three poems. All three were met with "overwhelmingly positive" response.

Discussing with a friend from that very same workshop that I might take another poetry class, he said I should because "some" of my poems weren't "terrible"

So not only do I one day hate my poems, one day like them, but apparently so do those few that have read them.

God, poetry is so frustrting!

Bernita said...

I feel the same.
My early poetry makes me wince.
To me it sound self-conscious, sophmoric, jejune.
I avoid looking at it.

Chris Eldin said...

"They seem so artificial, so contrived. They lack grace at their best, and at worst they are pretentious. At times they irritate me by their very existence. At other times I feel silly and pretentious for even saying I despise them. "

I just love that, Charles. I think we all feel that way about our writing from time to time, poetry or not.

Poetry is really hard for me to read. I tend to be too impatient. So I deeply respect those who can write it. To me, it's the hardest kind of writing.

virtual nexus said...

Love 'And the broken blades quiet as stones'

Check out Jane Holland Raw Light -

On the verge of doing poetry exercises and looking for new faces on the blog.

Erik Donald France said...

I'm not walking into this minefield . . . . .

But I agree, poetry is important.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

Love the poem! And it's very difficult to judge the medium -- what I think is that most suffer from two faults -- being overly sentimental or being overly abstract. But when it works, man, the world changes! I love love love a variety of poets -- Auden, Bukowski, Carver, Margaret Atwood. So much good work out there.

Steve Malley said...

I often read poetry, doubt I'll ever try to write it. Rather liked your one, though!

Ever notice there are three different (and sometimes competing) esthetics to poetry?

1. The impact of the word on the page (think e.e. cummings)

2. The 'sound' in the mental ear (Poe, especially 'The Bells', or 'Annabel Lee')

3. The powerful image that stays with you (T.S. Eliot's a good example)

Hmmm, future blog topic?

Sidney said...

I wish I wrote more poetry. Poems were the first things I wrote and the first things I had published, but I kind of got busy and have all but stopped using the form.

Charles Gramlich said...

Donnetta, thanks. Sometimes poetry can express things that other mediums can't. You should give it a try.

Travis, it would probably be better for me not to try to analyze it as much. As you say, people like it or don't.

Lana, you are a true sweety pie.

Wayne, I wonder what are the commonalities in those poems that most everyone likes.

Szelsofa, yes, even the poems I don't like now, I still can remember something of the emotions that made me write them.

Mark, a lot of times I think my own personal poetry is more for me than for an audience. Although I want them to be read, most of them, I give far less thought to audience when writing poetry than in writing fiction. But yes, the best way to judge poetry is probably through it's impact on an audience.

Miller580, frustrating could be the definition of poetry I think sometimes. You should submit some of yours. You know I think I'm gonna get a t-shirt made saying: "is it poetry, or is it drivel?"

Bernita, yep, you've got the feeling down.

Church Lady, yes, you are right that we writers can also feel that way about our prose at times. I know I have. Good point.

Julie, thanks.

Erik, you are a wise man indeed.

Michelle, thanks, and I think you've hit the basic dichotomy on the head. Sentimentality can make me gag, but sometimes I see poetry so abstract that it strikes me as mental masturbation. Hard to strike a balance, but yes, there are a lot of good poets out there.

Steve Malley, good observations. I think that might be worth a blog topic. Time for some consideration. I think I'm more of a sound and image guy myself.

Sidney, I've done much the same thing, although I continually seem to cycle back to poetry when I have some spare time. There's something about it I want to understand, even if I don't.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I have enjoyed poetry ever since reading Coleridge and Poe in school. To me poetry is one of the arts that I greatly admire but that I know is not my forte. How do you judge poetry? I think it is definitely subjective like anything else that is creative. I'm not a pollock fan or a picasso fan but others love it. I feel the same way about poetry. And I loved the Answers poem.

SQT said...

I can't ever claim to hate poetry since I believe most songs are poetry set to music. BUT, I can't write it to save my life. I've dabbled, very occasionally, but it just doesn't resonate with me.

Stacia said...

Poetry is not a gift I have. At all. There are some I like--and I like yours--but I can't write it. The best I can do are silly limericks.

Travis Erwin said...

Me and poetry do not get along. I mean me as the creaotor. I love to read poetry that hits me just right.

AvDB said...

On top of pretentious, I'd have to add "trite" to a description of my best attempts at poetry. Fortunately, I realized it was a lost cause and abandoned the issue before I found an open mic night.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ello, a few summers back I took about a month and reread all of Poe, both poetry and prose, and I fell deeply in love with his words again.

SQT, good point about song lyrics. I often judge them as poetry and find them badly lacking. My favorite song lyric poem is from "Bullet the Blue Sky" by U2.

December/Stacia, limericks definetely have a place.

Travis Erwin, good poetry is among my favorite reading. Bad poetry is painful.

Avery, lol on open mic night. I probably should have done the same, but I was not quite as wise as you.