Friday, April 18, 2008

On Poetry


Did anybody ever tell you that I dislike poetry?

I do. I hate it with all my heart. Because people turn to words, to satire, to reams of inutile academic discourse when they cannot act. Poetry, dear friends, is yet another manifestation of this kind of impotence: the writer feels so strongly about something that he cannot act, except to commit something to verse.

Maybe he gets lucky. Maybe the poem affects people who feel the same way but cannot articulate their feelings. Maybe the song becomes a hit and the writer becomes another Morrissey. Or maybe the writing is so potent that it helps kick-start the Civil Rights Movement. More often than not, the writer cannot taste any success beyond the personal "Hey, I got something written!"

Unfortunately, "Hey I got something written!" cannot by itself get you fed, clothed, housed, and (especially) laid. Your needs still drive you, and if you're as much a poet as I am, your automatic response is to write reams upon reams of (say it with me) useless poetry. I could have spent that writing time by actually getting me fed, clothed, housed and, yes, laid (Getting a better paying day job is often a step in that direction).

The awful truth is that nobody really reads, much less appreciates, poetry. Okay, some people do, but often, they're neither numerous nor rich enough to matter. The perception is that poetry is either--

  1. nothing special as any five-year-old can break a long coherent sentence into lines and call it poetry or
  2. it's so specialized that most people who have "jobs" and "real social lives" cannot relate to it.

Besides, it does not make us better people. Bin Laden is a poet. So was Hitler. A sensitive thug with literary leanings is still a thug, albeit a more sophisticated one. If you ask my ex, being a poet only makes people think of you as a smooth-talking snake oil salesman. Or a smooth-talking snake oil peddling thug.

(So before you run off with someone because he is an artiste do try to remember that the insensitive clod who's forgotten how to say "I love you" probably got that way taking action --and not writing poetry-- to meet the needs of your belly and those of your kids.)

The point is, poetry sucks. When it isn't trumpeting your triumph to the world after the fact, poetry's like opium. It keeps you distracted writing when you could be taking action instead. When there is a venue for action, when one is empowered to realize his desires, there is much less poetry. I fear that there are quite a few of us who are lock-stepped into being nothing more than poets, forever writing about actions we will likely never take.

Still it's a beautiful activity, and one of the reasons why I write is that I am plugged into a higher power when I write my best poems, even when these are the most useless kind-- the interminable whining about aborted romantic liaisons.

The price I pay for loving poetry is that I hate it with a passion.

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