boring poetry techniques (anthology burnout)

- starting/ending every stanza/strophe with the same phrase. the pop music is rotting your brain.
- unnecessarily big words used not for their meanings but for their volume. it’s interesting that one uses words one doesn’t know, one uses them for space and sound. that sense of the materiality of language is interesting. the immediate meaning within the poem is usually boring. Don’t use poetry to Improve Your SAT Vocab, prove You Can Use A Thesaurus, or Show You Know Lit Theory Buzzwords.
- spacing that doesn’t do anything, or doesn’t know the coded meaning of pagespace. double-spacing, for instance. space carries meaning. to my ear, seeing a blank line between two worded lines indicates, score-like, an extended silence. so when i read double-spaced poems i think, “get on with it!” space is important! if poetry is like music, then the page space is a score. if poetry is like art, the page space is a canvas. if poetry is like architecture, the page space is topological. if poetry is like poetry, there’s an expansive history of how the space of the page has come to mean… know your genre!
- expressing what you think about poetry through a poem. yawn.

I do not choose these poems. I choose other poems. I also avoid poems about breakups. I’m just not interested in your everyday pain. I like uncommon pain– disease, war, trauma.

I think it’s time for me to have a drink and call it a night.

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12 Responses to boring poetry techniques (anthology burnout)

  1. kevin.thurston says:

    expressing what you think about poetry through a poem. yawn.

    absolutely*

    *of course there can always be an exception

  2. Jessica Smith says:

    yes. there *could* be an exception. i am open to it. poets have carried it off before. it could happen again.

    you know, kids these days…

  3. Kendra says:

    How about poems written to be criticized, too obviously with certain academic structures in mind? I once responded to a friend’s poem with two longish commnents, and he said, “Yes, those two interpretations are correct. But there are five. One of the ones you didn’t say has to do with Plato.”

  4. François says:

    Funny that you should mention architecture. been thinking about this topic a lot lately, mostly from my reading of Bernard Tschumi’s Architecture and Disjunction. More on that once I remember what I wrote about it.

  5. Jessica Smith says:

    E… Have a drink. It all looks better doubled.

  6. Glenn Ingersoll says:

    Lots of people seem to seize up at the poem-about-poetry. And lots of poets write ‘em.

    The bad poem-about-poetry bothers me no more than the bad poem-about-daddy. Does the poem succeed or fail? Why or why not? I’ve been in plenty of workshops and it’s damn hard to figure out something to say other than I-like-this-part, I-don’t-like-that-part. It’s not really interesting to me when a workshopmate says, “I don’t like poems about X.”

    I think I’ve gotten better at pointing up elements of a poem that make it more (or less) interesting. How helpful that is to a poet in a workshop setting … only the poet knows. On the other hand, when reading a poem on my own I hope to enjoy it, and don’t feel I have to prepare myself to say why.

  7. Jessica Smith says:

    Ha, Glenn, well, hopefully there won’t be any “poems about daddy” either. If you’ve read more of my blog than just this post, or read the reasoning behind the Anthology, then you know that the “poem about x” is much less interesting to me than how the medium forces/enforces its message.

    Also, there’s of course a great difference between reading 3000+ poems to cull an anthology and reading 3 poems in-depth for a workshop response. And as you note, reading for pleasure is even another kind of reading, and one that must be considered but that cannot be fully predicted when one approaches the poem from the Editorial side.

  8. flutey says:

    Many poets try to tell other poets the rules of poetry, and forget to mention that those rules are actually personal opinion. The absurdity of that is beyond a joke.

    The above statement would be true even if I didn’t totally disagree with ALL of the 4 points defined in the original blog entry.

    1. I guess the blog author doesn’t like Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream” where he repeated the phrase several times.

    2. I guess the blog author doesn’t like James Baldwin who’s vocabulary and grammar were pure perfection. Note: People who are afraid of “The Big Words” just don’t know how to use a dictionary. — it’s easy… Really. [hint: it’s in alphabetical order. This makes it easy to find those big words.]

    3. Too much white space? is that really worth writing about?… Really?

    4. Writing a blog about bad poetry as opposed to writing a poem about bad poetry is almost pure hypocrisy.

    5. The only thing from this entry that makes sense is the final statement about the kind of poetry the author likes. I’m not agreeing with his belief, because many, many people like reading poems about breakups, but I agree with the fact that he concluded that it is his personal opinion. As opposed to the rest of the article.

    Making rules in poetry is a joke.

    But that’s just my personal opinion.

  9. bob says:

    in my limited experience, one of the barriers to exploring poetry is that there’ve always seemed so many rules involved and no shortage of experts/arbiters lined up to tell you how they work, even how the poem was meant to be experienced. why “you” just don’t get it. when the poetry train pulls into intellectual station, i tend to want to get off and walk the rest of the way with the rest of the Simple Dolts, happily enjoying in my misinformed way the poem/poet i’ve found. it’s not that i have anything against an academic approach to analysis but generally THERE is where you’ll find scholars speaking the language of scholar for other scholars, a very brainy circle jerk. very insular. very “we get it, you don’t.” very, often enough, boring and self-serving. not all the time, not even most of the time; but frequent enough that you can’t miss it. (i don’t know your poetry, jessica, nor your scholarship; this is not aimed your way. simply, it’s the button of mine the post above has pushed that compels me to bark, misinformed as my barking may be.)

    i can be a lazy thinker. i tend to receive things emotionally, on a gut level; i LIKE that. when i want to intellectulize, i’ll read an essay, re-open my sontag. something resonates or it does not, beyond which i’m likely to not give it much thought. i am drawn to honesty and things that smell like truth. if a poem about someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend, for example,or the colors of the autumn leaves hits a note, i appreciate it, much more than the intellectual gymnastics easily found in much literary criticism.

    i digress. “the coded meaning of page space”? what is it? who decided? was there a vote? is there a consensus? and yes, sure, “space carries meaning,” but i’d like to decide for myself what that meaning is. in fact, i’m pretty confident that i’m able, though my interpretation might not be in agreement with yours. and that’s o-k. “know your genre!” has the ring of handcuffs being clamped around my wrists. i’m guessing you’re much more generous with your students.

    i’m glad i’ve found your blog, jessica. it’s been awhile since i gave more than passing thought to poetry. it’s been nice to tip-toe back into the past few days, spurred by coming across this.

    last: “…who’s vocabulary and grammar were pure perfection…”

    whose indeed?

  10. bob says:

    i’d like to apologize for the post above. the tone that echoed from it was unpleasant to my ears. not only was it a variety of piling-on – the gist of my sentiments was expressed in the post before mine – but, since it was a post from the past (if not so distant), it might’ve seemed like cheap dredging-up; i could have been more constructive.

    and the handcuffs comment was out of line and way over-the-top. further, precisely because i DON’T know your teaching approach, i’d’ve done much better to shut up. i suspect, in fact, that you are not one to ground your students in dogma and are one to let them find their own literary wings.

    clearly, the notion of “rules” where creative writing is concerned is a hot-point of mine. i took it and ran too far. i’d like to blame the coffee but it was me. i’m sorry. i’ll think a little longer next time.

  11. These are not RULES.

    These are suggestions culled from reading THOUSANDS of poems submitted by people between the ages of 20 and 40 for a poetry anthology. When you read thousands of poems and the bad/mediocre ones fall into certain categories, it’s only fair to tell people, “hey, you might not realize it because you’re not reading thousands of poems by your peers, but your poems are falling through the cracks because they don’t stand out. you might want to find your own niche in terms of content.”

    One of the best pieces of writerly advice I was ever given was to “write what you know.” This doesn’t just mean “don’t try to write about things you haven’t experienced” (of course– then how would we get science fiction?) but rather, “write about what _you_ know… what’s uniquely your insight into the world.”

  12. bob says:

    you’re right.

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