The big tent
In the comments these past few days, I have had a discussion with one of our participants, Rosemary, about poetry in forms and one poet in particular, W. B. Yeats. W.B. Yeats is widely recognized as a master. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, and most believe his best work happened after winning the prize. That said, I don’t particularly care for Yeats. It is easy for me to acknowledge his skill, but he writes in a style that leaves me cold. Reading his work feels like reading an English assignment. It brings me no pleasure. Rosemary does not agree with me. She’s not alone.
While I like to think of the poetry community as one big family, I don’t necessarily think of it as one big happy family. Just because you are in the same family doesn’t mean you have to like each other, although I certainly like Rosemary.
Feuds and expectations
Alexander Pope was by all accounts an insufferable little man (At 4 foot 6, I do mean little) who was loved by half the literary world and despised by the other half. Any poet his disliked, he insulted and parodied within his poems. Even poets that were his friends rarely escaped his poetic wrath. He was perhaps the best poet of his age, and he had no humility about that fact whatsoever.
In modern times, one of my poetic heroes, Charles Bukowski, was forever insulting the beat poets, and took great offense whenever his work was lumped in with theirs. On the surface, their work had many similarities, but Bukowski felt as if the beats were conspicuously trying to embrace the lifestyle of the poor and downtrodden, while for him that was simply the reality of his life. The moment he had money, he embraced it with both hands and wrote about it conspicuously. That ticked a lot of people off too. They wanted their poor, downtrodden poet to stay poor and downtrodden.
Write the way you write
Some people believe (or at least believed) that you cannot have poetry without meter. They believe that patterns are the very heart of poetry and that meter is the way of determining and defining those patterns. For most of the history of poetry, few poets questioned that poetry and meter were inextricably intertwined. In the twentieth century, however, poets began to reconsider the idea of meter. Poets such as William Carlos Williams began to focus on image over meter. They wrote poetry in which line length was determined by the image or the impression the line was meant to create rather than patterns of syllables, word lengths, sounds or stresses. This was a controversial act. Today though, this style is the dominant approach to poetry.
My point is that you will never please everybody. Some people will like your poems and others will, most decidedly, dislike them. You have to write what feels true to you. Embrace your voice, whether the crowd likes it or not.
Today’s poetry assignment
Write a poem in the first person that makes a definitive statement. Stand behind something you believe or tell a bold lie. Either way, embrace what you have to say.