That Thing Called Poetry

I was complaining not long ago to a dear friend about “today’s” poetry.  I had entered a poem I wrote in a contest for an online magazine.  It was a lovely poem in iambic pentameter, four stanzas, beautiful rhymes.  I didn’t expect to win, because I know that’s an archaic style in today’s world, but when I read the entry that did win, I was appalled.  It was the most nonsensical thing I’d ever read in my life, and not only did it win the money, it got published and oohed and aahed over by all the literazzi at the magazine.

I read the poem to my friend and then proceed to rant.  It makes no sense, I complained.  It’s all these random words thrown together on a page about who knows what, without any meter, without any rhythm, without any rhyme.  How can this be poetry?

My friend, whose daughter-in-law is a poet, agreed that it didn’t make sense.  Then he started telling me about postmodernism and angst and wretchedness and hopelessness and how these poems aren’t necessarily written to make sense to me, they’re written for the poet, out of the deep darkness of the poet’s soul.  Blah blah blah.

What a bunch of hooey.  What good is a poem if the reader can’t figure out what the heck it means?  Miffed, I decided to write a snarky poem about poems that don’t make sense and the literary elite who make such a big fuss over them.

Then my friend said, tell me what you don’t like about this winning poem.  So I started dissecting it, line by line, telling him exactly why it didn’t make sense.  Why it was just a pile of words on a page.  And then a funny thing happened.

I started seeing something in it.  “Well,” I said, “I suppose this could mean such-and-so. ImageAnd by that he could be saying this and such.”  After a bit, we’d gone through the whole thing and I saw symbolism that could be taken a number of ways.  And then it hit me.  It was like abstract art.  I used to hate abstract art.  I like a picture to look like something.  But I took an art appreciation class once and had to analyze an abstract Picasso painting, and in doing so I learned to really appreciate it (hence, I suppose, the name of the class).  I still don’t like abstract art, but I don’t hate it any more.

Well, I still don’t like the kind of poetry that apparently wins contests these days.  And I’m not going to spend my time reading it, because, frankly, it’s just too much work, and I don’t have that much extra time.  But I can appreciate that it has value for its own sake, and I guess that’s something.  Maybe I’m not completely hopeless.  (And also, just between you and me, I’ve discovered a poet I really, really enjoy reading.  Check him out at

My snarky poem?  Okay, I’ll share it with you, if all you poets out there promise not to throw rotten vegetables at me (as if my blog is read by poets far and wide).  The title comes from Asch’s conformity experiment.  This is not award-winning poetry so I don’t think anyone will be knocking down the doors to copy it, but if you are, please don’t.  It’s my original work, as snarky as it is.

Asch’s Asch’s We All Fall Down

Words without sound

Stabled to a variegated sky

Rhymes that don’t

Meaning without

Unrelenting swirls of chaos

Feigning significance

Venerated by the self-appointed elite

Whose voices resonate so loudly

In their own ears

That they miss the susurrus:

“The emperor has no clothes.”

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