The New Poetics
Written April 14, 2007 (Age 20)
This is not a poem, per-se:
I do not have the strength
to carry ideals across the
Wastelands of stanzas and
fields of form where
poets of old once lit their
candles on the flames
of perfection. No,
I do not have the strength
to ramble ‘til we take the Tower
or sing a Song of Myself.
All I can offer is secrets whispered,
a flicker of a spark
in the night that is our mind.
The poet provides all the criticism necessary in the opening line: “This is not a poem.”
“The New Poetics” is an Ars Poetica, a poem about poetry, or in this case, the lack there of. The poet expresses a self-awareness of his own poetic limitations, saying, “I do not have the strength,” yet concludes that there is still something valuable in what he can offer.
What is most impressive about this “poem” is the way in which the poet weaves three literary allusions into the verse in so few lines. These allusions present the type of poetry the speaker insists this piece is not. How could one call anything they write “poetry” when compared to the giants of Eliot, Browning, and Whitman?
The poem is spot-on in it’s self-criticism: it is not a poem, but there is something there. Grade: B-
Every young poet encounters e e cummings and then has to spend decades realizing that no, they are not, themselves, e e cummings. The poet here is dancing at the edge of that precipice, but not committing to the plunge into ass-hattery. There ARE times when toying with the rules and forms of poetry are not only allowable but fun, communicative, new and exciting! Where does the line fall. Oh, you! There are no easy answers in literary criticism.
I rather like this piece. Had it dragged out for stanza on stanza I might have gotten tired but as it stands it is a fun little poem, dripping with references to greater works. It comes across to me as the first act of a striptease, just hinting at all the naughty bits poetry has to show you, so long as you can pony up the dough.
If I have a very small bone to pick with this work it is the jaded tone of the speaker. With a sense of wonder he could have exclaimed, “There is so much to cover that I shall never be able to express it all!” Instead, for the majority we get a shrug and, “There’s so much to cover, I’ll never be able to express it all.” Which is much harder to find inspiring.
The redemption of the piece is “All I can offer is secrets whispered” despite his protestations, here the speaker is harmonizing with the authors and poets who preceded him. We none of us have anything but our hard earned secrets, which we whisper into the dark half hoping and half afraid someone will hear.
I submitted this poem for an assignment in my intermediate-level creative writing class my junior year of college. I was really frustrated when I received an ‘A-‘ on the assignment. Not because I thought I deserved an ‘A,’ but because my professor commented on the line “sing a song of myself” writing, “This isn’t what poetry is.” (This is also not what helpful feedback is.)
I’m still kind of annoyed that this professor didn’t recognize the allusion to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” At the time, I expected my teachers to basically know everything I knew, plus a whole lot more. (Right? What else are they there for? I could only have a proper crush on one or two at a time, maximum. After that it was all hoping they knew more shit than me. Though to be honest, knowing a lot of shit was total crush-fuel.) I have since discovered that academics are still just people, and have capitalized the allusions to make them a bit more overt.
I’ve often feared that what I really am isn’t a fiction writer or a comedian or a social critic, but a poet, and not even a good one at that. I can think of few things worse in this life than having one’s calling be the pursuit of finely-crafted verse (I can! Like, being skinned alive, being one of the first poor bastards diagnosed with HIV, having a happy life only to realize it was a computer simulation and nobody you love ever actually existed, being really itchy…); at least drug-users get to enjoy their addiction while they’re using. Poets are not so lucky.
Writing poetry isn’t wholly enjoyable. Obsessing over making every word the perfect choice for the moment is time-consuming and occasionally infuriating. Normal people don’t spend 5 minutes trying to come up with the perfect synonym for “touch,” (just 5?) they just say touch! Only a psychotic would waste their precious life-force trying to decide between “caressed” and “felt,” and then question their decision for the rest of their life! (Stroked, held, claimed, grazed while eyes locked. Wait, is this good touch or bad touch because we also have sullied and deflowered and defiled and… What? You don’t think this is fun? It’s like playing darts but the bulls-eye is complete emotional devastation.)
What makes poetry worth writing are those moments when you accidentally (destroy a soul) write something so new and amazingly pleasing to the ear that the hundreds of lines of garbage that came before it become worth it. (Oh. I suppose.)
The best poets make sure almost every line is like that, and it is this level of dedication to the craft that I am lacking. I can write some really good verse, but I’ll also let garbage mingle in with it. I rarely have the motivation to perfect my poetry the way I try to perfect my prose. Once I get a golden line, I’m happy, and more than willing to let the reader eat garbage in order to get it. (You know, some of us kinda dig that shit) A terrible attitude for a poet to have, but that’s why I don’t consider myself a poet.
I hope you like this shit or want to share or comment or follow us or be best friends and come over and hangout. Do you want to hang out? I totally have like, some mac and cheese for you or something.
(Thanks for reading! ~Sean)