Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Some Thoughts Around The Red Wheelbarrow

I recently posted a couple of 'experimental' poems on writeoutloud.net. One was William Carlos Williams' The Red Wheelbarrow. Some positive comments, but some negative ones too.

1) Some people seem terribly suspicious that people are being fooled by these types of poems. They, however, are 'immune' from this, because they've guarded their imaginations against this somehow. What they can't seem to realise is that some people actually enjoy that kind of stuff and seem to be of the opinion that their taste is the only legitimate taste. The emperor may have no clothes, but maybe he really wanted to be a naturist...

2) Poetry for some seems to exist withing very carefully defined barriers, and what's outside 'isn't poetry'. Others have much more fluid boundaries, and others still seem to almost have no boundaries. It seems important to some to have these boundaries, but to others it's not as important.

3) Ideas of authority - who gets to define what poetry is/isn't - seem to bother some people a lot. There are questions of tradition around this too: as if Western white male poetic tradition were the only 'legitimate' tradition, and, say, Chinese womens' poetry, or African praise song, or haiku, say, were not really poetry.

4) How to define 'good' and 'bad' poetry seems to bother some people. What is bad poetry when any form is allowed, a poem can be visual or sound-based and still be a poem? For me, bad poetry is whatever sets my teeth on edge.

5) The question of meaning is another difficult area. A poem that doesn't have much meaning, or in which there is real difficulty working out what it does mean, seems to bother some people. Though in fact these problems are opposites, they both seem to be bothersome. If it's either too simple (like The Red Wheelbarrow) or too difficult (JH Prynne perhaps) it's somehow keeping out its audience.

6) It seems to bother some that some poetry is not going to be enjoyed by everybody, or a lot of people. Accusations of 'elitism' come up; as if somehow you're only supposed to like what everybody else likes. But most of us who like experimental poetry probably like it much the same way that we might like Thai food; because we like it. Because it gives us good feelings or experiences. Or we might prefer Captain Beefheart to Kylie Minogue because we just prefer that kind of music. Insert your own likes/dislikes.