Fun with Poetry

There’s some good poetry talk over at “God of the Machine”: It’s one of those response-to-a-response-to-something deals, but all the links are worth reading. The basic question: what good are poetry workshops when most of the people in them have no business being poets? Actually, there’s two implied questions in there: are the workshops good for people trying to get better at poetry, and are they good for the public at large by turning out poets that people want to read? Aaron addresses the former question:

Doing original mathematics requires inspiration, creativity, a “feel” for numbers, all the mysterious qualities that Erin posits for poets; yet no one would dream of saying that teaching calculus to a class of sub-Eulers and sub-Gausses is useless. Why, then, is there no point in teaching poetry to a class of sub-Jonsons and sub-Dickinsons? Poetry is every bit as technical as car repair, and poets, like car mechanics, need to know what they’re doing.

I’d extend the point further and say that, just as it behooves us all to know a modicum of math for getting by in daily life, knowing a modicum of poetry (both in terms of reading and trying to write it) is an arguably greater boon, because of its intrinsic worth as well as the handle it gives us on the use of language. “Ed Heil”: and I used to play with poetry using some ideas he read somewhere — I think it was a Peter Elbow essay. We’d come up with arbitrary poem structures and themes to challenge each other with. (For example: “rhyme scheme ABCD EBFD, anapestic hexameter, all about frogs.”) Then we’d write poems that fit the bill and pass them to the other guy for revision. The idea was that focusing on structure would keep the mind from fretting about whether or not it was being Inspired. It worked for us in large part because neither of us fancied ourselves actual poets — we just liked language enough to find the activity rather enjoyable.

Getting back to workshops — to the extent that they encourage the notion that “anybody can be a poet,” or, worse, “if you feel like a poet, you probably are one,” they’re providing a disservice. It’s one thing if you’re teaching a class or if the workshop’s explicit goal is to help everyone improve, not to get everyone published. In those cases, gentle feedback and positive reinforcement make sense. But when everybody sitting in the circle wants to Be a Poet, brutal honesty is the only way to go.

Speaking of poetry, check out the “blog poetry generator”: To use it, type in **url of your favorite blog**

and drag on the magnets just like you would on the fridge at home. Whoever can come up with the best Polytropos-generated magnet poem will win a very special prize. Post yours in the comments.