I’m feeling guilty because I have not been working very hard for months now—witness this near-barren blog—and doubly guilty becaus of my part in a Linked In discussion started by Anonymous, (not his/her real name) now closed and hidden because of some unkind words (mine weren’t especially kind), with this topic:
“Why do so many people write rhyming doggerel only fit for their mum’s fridge and consider themselves poets?”
I answered (slightly edited for punctuation, grammar, and spelling, and the italicized words added for clarity):
“For the same reasons even more people, by orders of magnitude, write sentimental, pretentious, self-absorbed crappy free verse—because they think poetry is ‘self-expression’ and that readers should be just as interested in their ‘feelings’ as they themselves are, or they think that poetry comes from inspiration (some dame in robes whispering sweet crap in their ears) so that they’re not really responsible for the crap they write—and both groups, the rhyming doggerel folks and the crappy free-versers, refuse to acknowledge that writing good poetry is damned hard work and requires reading—especially reading the poetry our culture has valued (and lots of it) and hard thinking about the minutia of every line, about its grammar (don’t get me started), about its sounds, and about just how they advance the structure of the poem—and then trying to write passable imitations of particular poems.
If you’ve worked hard enough to be able to write a few good sonnets and recognize why the 150 others you wrote aren’t good, then you can, with some more work, learn to write a few good short poems in any form, including free verse. The same is true for most forms, but not free verse, which teaches you nothing about how to work with serious formal constraints. And neither sonnets nor free verse do much to teach you how to tell a long story in verse of any kind—learning how to structure a long story, whether or not it’s in verse, requires quite a different skill set, which you learn by (surprise!) reading lots of long stories and trying to imitate what they do.
Nobody but beginning poets—not beginning lawyers, beginning baseball players, beginning gamblers, beginning carpenters, beginning plumbers, beginning teachers, beginning surgeons, beginning guitar players—nobody else, in any significant proportion, believes that good work will just come with their ‘flow.’ It’s an idiotic thing to believe.”
Cadging Hillel, if not now, when?