Friday, August 01, 2003

Rhyme and Meter

I was informed by e-mail that Borges also wrote poetry. Which is true. Some very good poetry, in fact. I did not mention this in my review of Labyrinths for the simple reason that the book contains one poem by Borges and was rather beside the point.

But since Iím on the topic...

I consider the world of contemporary poetry to be in a deplorable state of affairs. I mean really, just awful. Iíve known this for the last seven or eight years, ever since one of my poems was accepted by the National Library of Poetry for their annual anthology, which in 1996 was entitled ìTomorrowís Dream.î This should have tipped me off right then. What a horrible title for a poetry anthology.

But I was young, recently graduated from High School and about to start college. I was proud to have had one of my poems accepted for publication. And by the National Library of Poetry, no less. Big stuff, I thought.

Then the anthology arrived and I was horrified to discover that it was as big as a frickiní phone book, over seven hundred pages long with roughly seven poems squeezed onto about six hundred of those pages, the other hundred or so devoted to miniature biographies of the poets. That tallies up to roughly 5000 poems in that anthology. Quite a feet.

Thumbing through this tome I discovered that my carefully crafted, symbolist poem was planted among odes to Jesus, sonnets about kitty cats and enough ruminations on the subject of love to put the Hallmark Company out of business come Valentineís Day. Iím not saying my poem was the greatest. Rereading it now, itís rather embarrassing. So embarrassing that Iím not going to even reproduce it here because frankly it sucks compared to the state of my writing these days. Iím sure that in seven years, Iíll feel the same about what Iím writing now but thatís another topic altogether.

My point is poetry has become something anyone can do, badly. But the fact that anyone can do it doesnít mean everyone should do it as the result is a collection of horrors not to be inflicted on those who genuinely respect the written word and regard the crafting of it to be an art form. Due largely to the efforts of the National Library of Poetry and its competitors, the over saturation of horrible, horrible poetry has rendered the traditions of the art form meaningless. This problem has only been exacerbated by Rap Music (ìI know, Iíll emphasize every beat, because thatís how you read poetry, like a nursery rhyme!î) and the Poetry Slam movement, with itís promotion of inelegant, staccato ramblings on the harshness of the street hustlerís life, the tragedy of teen pregnancy and the crassness of the rich as actual examples of modern poetry.

To my words,
pimps and hos:
Maybe if we just
keep throwing
more crap out there,
itíll actually
catch on,

It doesnít help that at this years Tony awards, a show that promotes this very Eminem flavored crap won an actual award. This must stop, before another generation of would-be-poets has a chance to stand on the street corner and chatter about their love affair with God or the length of their penis and expect to be elevated to the level of Dante and appreciated as a ghetto Milton.

There is some great modern poetry out there, of course. Also some fabulous classical poetry and I agree with Ray Bradbury, that every writer who wants to know how to write well should devour poetry by the bucketful. Just make sure youíre reading Shakespeare, Neruda, e.e. cummings, Homer, and oh yeah, Borges instead of some sorry excuse for a greeting card.


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