Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Some Comments On Bad Poetry

Someone said on Facebook recently that "bad poetry is barely poetry."

I wonder what this means.

All poets worth their salt probably write more bad poetry than good poetry. What is really bad stays in notebooks, or gets thrown in the bin, or doesn't survive. But is it still poetry? I confess I don't really know...

But sometimes the definition of 'bad poetry' is more like 'the kind of stuff that I don't connect with'. A poem, say, at the extreme end of experimentalism such as Aram Saroyan's


(that's the whole poem, by the way, not just the title.) How is that a poem? is the question that gets asked, frequently, at great length sometimes.

Yet for others, that definitely is a poem. They also speak at great length about what it means: they talk of the 'flicker' of the word like a lightbulb flickering. The one side thinks the other is mad, or a con, or taking the piss.

'Taking the piss' might of course be a perfectly legitimate reason for writing a poem, good or bad.

Then there is the other end of the "is it really poetry?" debate, where the Patience Strong and the Purple Ronnie poems sit. Are they really poems, or just (contemptuous sneer at the ready) "verse"?

What I think is bad, what you think is bad, are probably two different things. But it's too easy to dismiss something I don't like as "not really poetry." It makes me feel good to dismiss whole swathes of writing into the outer darkness. But if poetry is a field (rhizometric), rather than a single line, then I don't think we can easily dismiss as "barely poetry" whatever section of the poetry world we don't happen to connect with.

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