Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why (Some) People HATE Poetry

Today's blog is a text collage comprised of random statements found on the Internet about HATING poetry.

Teachers at a poetry forum group discussing why they or their students hate poetry:

I once overheard a teacher saying to his class, "I don't like this either, but we have to do it so let's just get through it as quickly as possible, okay?" (It was Chaucer, btw.) Why do you think this resistance exists and what can we do to overcome the attitude?"

AAACCCK. How can you not love Chaucer!! … I think the key is to ignore the format as much as possible when you're dealing with poetry-resistant kids and just focus on the content.

Get your rotten tomatoes ready: I'm one of those heretical teachers who hates poetry. Wait! Wait! I don't hate it as a genre. I hate it as an excuse for somebody to put smarmy nonsense down on a page. How many times when we ask students to write poetry do we get "I'm going to kill myself because he doesn't love me" drivel?

Honestly, besides the smarmy nature of teenage poetry, I think what kills my enjoyment of poetry is having to break it down into dactyls and hexameters and troches and objective correlatives. Why can't we appreciate poetry for what the poet says and not for how he or she says it? It's ok to point out the poet's brilliance in being able to write something great according to a preset formula, such as a sonnet. But is all the stuff I mentioned above necessary for high school students to learn? Do we turn them off by making poetry reading a chore instead something pleasurable?

That's sure what happened to me. Here's some smarm for you:

A bird came down the walk
He did not know I saw
He bit an angle worm in half
and ate the fellow raw.

By Emily Dickinson for goodness sake!

By the way, I love Chaucer and Shakespeare. For some reason, they don't count as poetry to me.

Kids don't like poetry because teachers don't teach them that the entire line has to be digested to get the point. All of them read the words on the line as they see it...they don't get that sometimes you have to actually read until you get to a period or a semicolon to get the whole idea. I wouldn't like it either in fragmented bits.

Set it to music, and kids like poetry. That's all songs are...get on their level, and how can they NOT like Beowulf, Chaucer, and Shakespeare?

Wasting a class' time just analyzing the rhyme scheme and meter to the point that they're nodding off and wishing they were having root canal work instead of sitting in your class is very, very sad. It would be the same thing if I assigned "King Lear" and said cite every example of iambic pentameter in the play - there are 182 and you have to find them all!!! AACCCCKKKK!

I'm NOT saying the mechanics aren't important. I am saying that most kids are not going to get hooked on poetry if that is the only approach the teacher uses to teach poetry.

Poetry is meant to be heard. It's great to know the mechanics eventually, but it is the words, the meaning they convey, which are of ultimate importance. Read aloud. This is my best advice. The hunger for language is real; the "fear" of poetry quelled for many when the inhibitions are quieted.

Students don't understand that poetry MUST be read differently than prose, they find poetry difficult to comprehend. In addition, poetry has no set form and can be written in so many different ways. It is much more "open" than prose; therefore, many students have a problem with poetry due to it being so "unstructured" in many ways. I think many students have this mentality: "I don't understand it; therefore, I hate it"

I am a student from the UK studying English Language and Literature. My mother is a high-school English teacher and so I was raised in a fairly literary environment. I can't get enough of novels, short stories, essays; I love reading prose... but I f**king HATE poetry!

I hate its artificiality. I hate the fact that it DEMANDS one's analytical attention and that there is no way of gleaning pleasure from it without picking it apart like some smug cryptic crossword clue. And more than anything I hate the fact that, for others, poetry seems to speak directly to their souls, setting hearts and minds on fire, while it leaves me sitting here, uninspired, empty and alienated. It tortured me because I really do WANT to feel what you feel when you read poetry, but I can't. I think I'm incapable of it. If a person can be tone-deaf, do you think it's possible to be "poetry-blind"?

Try to open your mind and realize that NO ONE "gets" all poetry. Not all poetry must be picked apart and analyzed, either, believe it or not. Some poems are meant to be enjoyed for what is says literally; for example, William Carlos Williams wrote a poem about taking his wife's plum from the refrigerator and eating it. She had to find out it was gone instead of him telling her about it before he found it. It is a very simple poem about nothing more than the narrator offering his apologies for taking his wife's plum out of the refrigerator and eating it without telling her first or asking her if this was "ok."

[Apparently some students still have problems with even this "simple" poem: Click here.]

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From a California girl working full time while attending the University of Iowa:

I Hate Poetry. Here’s why:

1. I hate that with poetry, we are expected to read into it all.

2. With poetry, you’re given basically nothing, and you’re expected to identify facts that you would have absolutely no way of knowing. If you really want me to understand, graph it for me. Or use clear language. But the point isn’t for me to understand; the point is for you to learn something about yourself, or for you to find a way to express something for yourself. Whenever you write a poem, you’re writing it for you.

3. I can understand how dissecting poetry can help us create symbolism, and watch for subtleties in writing. I can also see how poetry can sometimes be fun. I like some poetry, when I make it mean something new to me instead of trying to guess why the author wrote it. I do also enjoy the challenge of creating poems with particular rhythms. I like funny poetry. I think that some poems are kind of like a collage of senses; they can combine smells and imagery and those sorts of things, and that’s kind of interesting and even occasionally powerful.

4. Generally, though, I think poetry tends to be a big game of “Guess what I’m thinking!”

(She goes on to note that "a Google search of “I hate poetry” returned 7,320 results. “I love poetry” returned 9,190 results. "Why I hate poetry" returns 200 results and "why I love poetry" returns 2,130.) [1]

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Blogger Paul Dallgas-Frey asks, "How do you become a poet, if not by writing poems, even if they are bad ones? An architect is still an architect, even if he is a bad one." But: "He does have a license. Maybe that's what I need," Paul says. "A License to Practice Poetry, a CPP (Certified Poet Practitioner). "

Here's Paul's poem about why he hates poetry:

I Hate Poetry
by Paul Dallgas-Frey

When I think of poetry,
I think of maidens
in gossamer gowns,
skipping through meadows
with baskets full of flowers.

Can you imagine a poet
going out for a beer with the guys
after a hard day
of writing poems?

I can’t.
Poetry is for wimps.
It’s all about doilies
and butterfly wings,
or stuff so personal
only the writer
could possibly know
what it’s about,
which really
makes me crazy.

And half the time
it doesn’t even rhyme anyway.

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Random Comments from here and there:

--"Not to intentionally bash an entire medium of art, but I find poetry obnoxious and ridiculously pretentious."

--"I realize some people think it beautiful and moving; some find it to be a great release for stress and tension, etc. The symbols, the imagery, blah blah blah. I think if people are going to be writers, I want to read something with a bit more substance to it."

--"Good poetry is demanding of the reader - much of what is communicated occurs in what is not said, left out, or alluded to through allegory and metaphor. For the lazy reader who wants to be more passively entertained, good poetry is often too demanding."

--"The ratio of bad poetry to good poetry is about 3 billion to one, if you count lovesick things scribbled by adolescents during Calculus class.
Lit classes tend to suck the joy out of experiencing poetry by sneering at 18-year-olds who aren't already steeped in the historical and social context that produced Leaves of Grass and The Wasteland and Prufrock. Some poetry is intensely personal; bad personal poetry tends to come off as either self-pitying wankery or self-aggrandizing wankery. And like it or not, Shakespeare IS very, very difficult for most people with an "average" IQ and education to understand. The language is archaic and becoming more so."

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And, finally, from a published poet:

I Hate Poetry
by Adrian Potter

I hate poetry.
It doesn’t pioneer unexplored territory
or stand upon dangerous ground.
I hate poetry
because it’s crafted with shoddy quality,
like a t-shirt sold at a swap meet
that falls apart after only a second or third wearing.
I hate poetry.
It’s all foreplay, no passion.
It speaks of romance without defining anything new,
ignoring how the mention of sex
clings like sweet mango to the roof of your mouth,
how a kiss can push whiskey breath
onto unsuspecting lips,
how regret glistens like sweat beads
on a sleeping lover’s body.
I hate poetry.
It believes it can crawl
through the broken glass of the past
without bleeding and still somehow
manufacture timeless literature.
Remember: advice is just advice,
but never let words stand in the way of writing.
Instead, twist the words – as if they are nipples
and your ideas are the index and thumb,
applying torque until the words
become what you desire,
or what you fear,
or both.
Show me what I do not know,
sins and shortcomings,
how to cheat to survive,
why hope hovers in the chest of men
despite the bell-shaped curve of misfortune
that governs our existence.
Show me these things instead.
Show me these things so I can love poetry again. [1]


So there you have it. A few random examples of why some people HATE poetry.

I grew up in a small town in the mountains where the only music carried by the few radio stations we could receive was country, pop or polkas. I adopted, like a sponge, the prevailing attitude that classical music was "longhair stuff" and opera the tedious, boring dronings of fat, screeching women singing in languages I couldn't understand. It took the dogged persistence of a fellow student to trick me into actually listening to certain arias, and only after multiple listenings (first in Russian--that was how he tricked me; then in Italian) did I finally come to understand and appreciate what I was hearing.

Perhaps poetry is that way for some people. It's not so much that they seek to consciously resist it--it may simply be that it just doesn't seem all that relevant to them--yet.

Relevancy and relation--Let's face it, if you can't relate to a thing, it's not going to be high on the list of things you think about, especially seek out or pay too much attention to. Maybe it's like music. They say about jazz that you either love it or hate it. But nothing is all black and white and we don't really live in an Either/Or universe. There're so many big gray areas. (I like SOME jazz, for instance. But not all, and I don't collect it, the way I collect certain books or poems.)

That's neither here nor there, though. What was the purpose of this lengthy word-collage? Beats me, ha ha. Seriously, it wasn't just mere curiosity on my part. I guess I wanted to understand the urge behind the desire to say something relevant creatively with words (as in a poem)--to resonate with at least one reader poetically the way certain poems have resonated with me. One of the poetry haters said poets are just writing for themselves but I disagree. Sure, poets write to express themselves and maybe, like some writers, they simply can't NOT write. But itching inner compulsion and/or proliferation alone do not a poet make.

But how come so many people find even the IDEA of poetry so worthy of disdain? Some people become attuned to poetry--and some don't. (I hate that word, "attuned". As if we've got some kind of inner antenna that goes "ka-ZAP-Ching!" when we connect to something.) The word "choice" comes to mind. You pretty much choose which TV channel to watch; it's a process of selection. That someone chooses to tune out Poetry is a choice. We should respect that. How extraordinarily fortunate, though, that for many it is indeed relevant... and positively loved. Some of the loudest critics of poetry I sometimes think are actually not people who "hate" poetry so much as poets themselves who spend more energy ranting about other poets' words or methods or perceived affiliation or affronts than they do in writing poetry themselves.

Really though, words matter. (Thank you Joseph Brodsky, for drumming that into my head!) Especially if you're a writer. The words you choose, the ones you omit. It is particularly disheartening when what one considers one's "best" poems are misunderstood, rejected, or blatantly ignored. (And like with the hair, you can have a really "bad poem day" I know you know what I mean here.)

For me personally, the magic, the insight, the passon and the beauty of what poetry's supposed to be about I think sometimes gets forgotten in the endless petty intellectual squabbles; blah-blah-blahing about the process, method, or performance; the sheer amount of attention devoted to contests and prizes; and the gnawing quest for feedback giving validaton. These all help us become more aware, and possibly better poets. But in the end, it's the words, man. It's the WORDS.

And the perplexing reality is ... that some people simply just hate the words.

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