Posts tagged ‘Innovation’

June 3, 2012

The Establishment of Proper Poetry

“Nah, don’t worry too much about it. In my opinion, most of establishment poetry is unsubstantiated bullshit. But I try not to let it affect me. :-)” — Cerfazo Alonqueda

I have spent the last several weeks frequenting an internet poetry forum. The medium of poetry tends to be highly charged with emotions, as most poets that share their work tend to insist that the poetry they produce should not be viewed in a negative light. It has been this way for a little over a century now, where poetry is viewed as something that can do no wrong. It is supposed that every person who reads a poem either “likes” the poem, and failing that, then it is obviously the fault of the reader, who clearly “doesn’t get it.” In opposition to this strange outcome, there of course still exists the notion of a distinct line which divides poetry into two classes. The first class is that of “high poetry,” which is distinguished and honored as having literary merit, and the second class falls into the category of “amateurish drivel,” written by uninformed and ignorant fools that clearly have no business pursuing poetry.

Who decides which poems are tossed into which category? Usually the responsibility of declaring a particular poem as not being ameteurish trash falls on the professor or moderator of the literary journal or online website in question. Of course, lacking any objectively agreed upon criteria for discerning poetry, these symbols of authority typically follow their own whims. These whims are not arbitrary, however, but typically follow the pattern of throwing the occasional bone to whoever feeds their egos to the highest extent. Naturally, these “chosen few” must maintain the superiority of the professor or moderator in exchange for continued recognition. As a result, the moderator or professor remains always the undisputed champion, an example that purely typifies the “correct” form of poetry, while everyone else must remain writhing in the maggot-filled depths below.

This state of affairs was not always contemporary. The roots of the situation can be traced back to the dawn of the twentieth century. At that time, poetry in america was still considered to be underneath the cultural baggage and oppression of the literary forms of Europe. This oppression fell away with the proclamation of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” as representative of a new type of poetry, a distincly “American” product that would democratize the oppression of European literature and establish the ascendancy of American literary form to its rightful place in the arts.

Historically, however, the opposite happened. Walt Whitmans “Song of Myself” is a notoriously boring and opaque poem. Any proclamation of ascendancy over other forms would have had to have been maintained by some established authority which would subsidize it. The university fulfilled this role through the publication of literary journals that only accepted poetry that it deemed to be in favor of this new democratic form. With this new academic support, poets could easily find publication and recognition by playing by the new rules, and all other forms of poetry withered up as not being worthy. This resulted in a literary establishment that, far from recognizing democratic spirit among american poets, doled out approval from a high chair, and maintained strict control over any possible challenges from the rank and file.

In more comparatively recent times, the rise of the internet changed the dynamic between poets seeking publication and poets seeking recognition. Vanity poetry sites like “” enable any aspiring poet to add their contribution to the site and recieve “feedback”. In truth, however, almost all comments towards any poem on such a site tend to consist of one line acclamations of how great the poem is. In such an environment, every poet becomes a moderator whose sole purpose in publishing poetry is to have their ego stroked, and any negative comment on any aspect of their poems is either brushed aside and ignored or reported for harassment.

And yet, in the face of this considerably distressing environment, the question must again be asked anew as to what constitutes good poetry. In western civilization, early poetry arose from variations of bard’s songs and was almost indistinguishable from them. The elements of music guided the earliest forms of poetry, and forms were distinguished by their use of rythym and repition. This can be seen in the conspicuous use of repeating stresses according to proscribed patterns and the obligation of the poet to effect powerful rhymes. These poems form a stark contrast to the poems of today, which ignore regular stress meter almost completely and seek to subdue conspicuous rhyme through excessive use of enjambment.

In later times still far removed from our own contemporary era, an additional emphasis towards striking imagery emerged. This happened as a result of the transition from poems being mostly performed orally to being mostly presented through the medium of the printed word. The eyes are deaf to rythym and repition. They only see before them the images construed by the words. And so, just as innovation in sound once tantalized the ear when good poetry was spoken, so too did innovation in imagery tantalize the eye when good poetry was written on the page. For a time, the dual emphasis on both sound and imagery continued to coexist in the poetry of the mid to late nineteenth century. As the clock turned over to the twentieth century, however, striking and innovative imagery consumed any emphasis on sound, ultimately resulting in the domination of free verse over form.

Given this information, it seems reasonable to propose that good poetry can exist in any medium and is identical to formulations of what might be considered good art. That is, innovation in any medium, whether it be a new age painting or a Robert Frost poem, is what drives art as well as poetry. Of course, once an innovative form has been declared by a genius, it is up to the artistic community to produce examples of mastery in the craft. And at the same time, the wheel of art continues to turn out new innovations, for as long as the medium exists.

When all is said and done, things can be summarized thus: The heart of any form, whether that form be primarily sonic or visual in nature, is consistent order and coherent meaning. And therein lies the key to creating “good” poetry. A good poem obeys the rules it sets for itself, and at the end of the day must make some meaningful statement, even if that statement is as banal as “It’s my poem and I can do whatever I want with it.”

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