Poetry is not words to be declaimed or sung. Poetry is words printed on a page, meant to be read in private, in contemplation, and in a place where sustained mental focus is possible. The voice of the poet is relatively unimportant; the explicit or implicit message of a poem is. Poetry is not about saying things in new ways or pushing the boundaries of language. The role of poetry is not to agitate for social change, although that may be an indirect secondary side-effect. Poetry is not convulsive unburdening of personal esthetic/emotional observations. Just because snow on a tree-limb looked beautiful to you, please don’t write a haiku about it. Poetry is not ephemeral or disposable. It must be composed of words which will endure long enough to be viable either short-term or long-term. Intentional obscurantism is the unpardonable poetic crime. Esoteric cryptography is not to be considered valid poetry. Ad jingles and Hallmark card verses constitute a more noble art than linguistic obfuscation. Say what you want to say poetically. Then work and re-work it.
Poetry is the most useless of arts and the most important. Why? Because it is difficult to commodify. But don’t fall for that drivel they taught you in school, “poetry is whatever you want it to be“. I call BS on that RIGHT NOW. Don’t just vomit it out there and make us clean it up. Dang. The hell wrong wit chu people? Poetry knows who you are and where you LIVE. Poetry is not playing around—those days are long over. Poetry kicked your English teacher’s cowardly ass and then spat on the semi-conscious twitching body before paying for everyone’s drinks and dancing her way out the emergency exit. What is poetry? I have NO IDEA, but Poetry knows. Problem is, that bitch won’t tell me. I still love her, though.
Lines Composed upon the Finished Perusal of a Large Volume of Poetry
The worst will be found toward the end of the book
When you’re scanning the lines of a weighty anthology.
Centuries have shaken what works can be shook,
What is old is refined—and I make no apology.
Angst-ridden ramblings, so fashionably bleak
Start appearing somewhere past the middle, I fear
With those modernist psyches, whose raggedly weak
And depressing confessions sling mud in the ear.
Like the scribblers of Suicide, brimming with bile
Or the autodestructive self-pitying boozer,
Whose quaint observations enshrining the vile
Are a crime against life and an art for the loser.
You ideologues, with your axes to grind,
Propagandizing causes in militant styles
Ought to stay in the hills, where the struggle is defined,
And spare us the old dialectical wiles.
The Feminist scribe, with her sex for a mouth,
Ever pressing her case, for fallopian reasons
Grows saggingly sterile. Her muses fly south
With the passing of harvests and goddessless seasons.
Absurdists, surrealists, and nihilist mystics
Whose hymns to destruction make glory of chaos
Should leave the black humor to God and ballistics.
Your poems, like Judas, are bound to betray us.
The Freudian flirt (whose neuroses abound),
And the Jungian shamans (their animas, too),
Ought to rest on their couches. Why should they be found
By the wellsprings of Spirit, whose guidance is true.
The art-lover’s lines gild a frame around Knowledge.
Their poems are like an art history course.
As they flit past the idols they studied in college
Their name-dropping odes are a grand tour-de-force.
Sixties drug-revelers, love beads a-jingle
And brothers dashiki-clad, howling at Nixon
No longer strike chords in my soul. Not a single sitar lick
Nor visions of hippie-chick vixen.
You rhymers and rappers of rhythms in sample
Whose words like a kick-drum send shock through old Whitey
Now cease from your chanting. The genre is ample.
Your gangstering paeans are too fly-by-nighty.
Revived Roman legions, who relish things Latin;
Your martial convictions inspire the hero.
But while you are looking for cities to flatten,
Remember: old Julius was nobler than Nero.
The theme of World Peace. This crops up near the ending:
A desperate hope for New-Agers and liberals,
Who cherish a dream of reality-bending
Through networking, magic, and energized crystals . . .
But what can be shaken shall perish, forgotten.
Anthologies show us that truth is enduring.
All praises and laurels shall prove misbegotten.
The Word become flesh is the most reassuring.
So I leave the anthology, closing its cover.
Three-quarters at least seemed like nonsense to me.
Yet still, I admit, I’m a poetry lover.
Let time do its work and in future—we’ll see . . .