Upon reflection, I know that some of my poetry is boring. That’s an unpleasant admission but I’m quite well aware that the vast majority of poetry I’ve read by others is also boring. It doesn’t matter if the poetry I’m reading is critically acclaimed or barely known. Much of the stuff is difficult to focus-on. When it comes to being boring, my poetry is in excellent, if often un-exciting, company.
This un-complimentary sentiment occurs to me upon reading a short passage conveyed by an unsavory character in Jacob Wren’s Rich and Poor:
Much can be learned from poetry. When it is boring it is boring in an absolute way, and to write poetry that is not boring is a kind of absolute challenge, analogous to the challenge I take upon myself to change things up whenever I begin to find my position dull. Poetry, like business, is full of tricks and cliches. And one quickly learns just how much energy it take to write a poem that is genuinely surprising.
This bare-knuckle appraisal of poetry is rarely found in academic investigations of poetics. It isn’t comforting to know that hours upon hours of care and attention to the expression of a deeply-felt emotion or perspective might turn out to be a big yawner. It’s much easier, and far more pleasant, to get wrapped-up in studying technical matters or the unquestionable successes of the masters, what Wren’s character calls tricks and cliches, than it is to show how and why a poet or a poem of any age is/was not boring. Or how and why some of the masters’ other poems might be extraordinarily boring. We want to study something that seems worth the attention. And the professors are there to give the students’ their money’s worth.
But on the other hand. People who are not enrolled-in (or teaching) some kind of literary studies have a hundred, even a thousand, things to give their attention to other than poetry. People who aren’t engaged in the professional academic world of poetry know that poetry can be boring. Most don’t have the patience for it.
In response to the question, “Why do you write poetry?”, this short passage of Wren’s offers an answer wrapped in a tremendous challenge. Be not boring. Be not what other people are. Be not what other poets have been. Be novel. Be new. Be inspiring. Write something that startles, surprises, comforts, invigorates and challenges the reader. Give the academics something to think about in a hundred years and the average person on the street today a reason to crack a book of poetry.
And so I will repeat myself…
Upon reflection, I know that some of my poetry is boring – but I also know that some of my poetry is not boring. And the same goes for the poetry of most poets I’ve ever read. Some one or two poems in any collection stand out as fresh, unexpected, startling or delightful. Sometimes I don’t like what a poet has expressed but I recognize how well they expressed it. Sometimes I am amazed by how well a poet has phrased my own thoughts and feelings….before I knew them myself.
References and Citations
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- Original draft: October 14, 2018
- Updated: October 21, 2018