If you’re on social media, you may have noticed poetry groups. They are a kind of epiphenomenon, a wart or wonder on the face of language enterprises generally.
Pardon my cynicism. But it’s in the service of a decent cause, I think: skepticism that good poetry can be produced by people who write but don’t read poetry.
Why do so many people write poetry? Is it a good thing that they do?
We might cheer the general idea that poetry should be more popular or more prevalent in our culture. Songs are popular, are heart and soul of pop culture. And it may not matter much that most song lyrics are bad.
Politics is a matter of general concern, though most of us aren’t particularly articulate about our political views. Yes, we complain. But do we know how to bring the country together? (A politically motivated view of poetry is expressed by minorities, like the lesbian writer Julie S Enszer, in an opinion piece called “Are Too Many People Writing Poetry?” Her view is that the more we have of minority opinions, the better. But minority opinions from untrained voices do not necessarily make good art. And such opinions, these days, overload the literary journals.)
Whether motivated by song or politics, poetry should be written by people who have read it and even studied it.
Otherwise, the idea of poetry is cheapened.
Why so many poets or poetasters? We all want to express ourselves.
The problem is knowing how to do so.
We all want to distinguish ourselves from the animals, some of whom have articulate voices or a bit of same. Crows and parrots can imitate language. Bulls and bears can roar and grunt.
But it’s only human beings that have articulate speech.
Some more, some less.
If speech is to become poetry, the speaker must know something about craft. Like other crafts, and arts, poetry has evolved through the centuries. So those who write poetry in the early 21st century should not sound like they’re speaking from the 18th or 19th or even 20th century.
But tons of would-be poets today sound just like that. They mistake rhyme as the crucial element of poetry, not an accessory or even accident. They are guilty of what Chaucer calls “drasty [nasty] rhyming.” By god, friends, if we have to go this pilgrims’ road together, let’s have some decent rhyming at the very least. And, what’s better, some attention to what really constitutes poetry in the 21st century.
Heightened speech, I would say. Rhythmic speech. And access to articulate ideas from all sources, written and spoken.
Poetry is a tough business, as I’ve said before. Not for sissies. Not for whiners. Or for those who expect instant praise or give up easily.
So today read a poem. Go to Poetry Foundation, for example, and dig around a bit. Why not? it will spare you from the drasty rhyming found in poetry groups on Facebook and other muddied sources.