Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bad Poetry

We like to discuss good poetry. But that's only a small part of the poetry world-- maybe it's time to talk about bad poetry! Heck, even searching the term "bad poetry" on google gives 218,000 hits! (only slightly fewer than the 246,000 hits for "good poetry".)

The BBC has a page of guidelines (with some examples) on how to write bad poetry, has a bad poetry seminar, and Elizabeth Barrette has a page on how to recognize it, and there are plenty of pages on the web that give you bad poetry on the web-- in fact, there's even a site!

Bad poetry-- celebrate it? Eradicate it? Laugh at the awkwardness of it? Weep at the lost opportunities? Curse at the minutes (hours) that you wasted reading it, time that you'll never ever get back? Or, maybe, just blush in embarrassment-- yeah, maybe the real problem with bad poetry is that awkward shock of recognition. Maybe too much bad poetry is just a little too close to something you wrote when I was a teenager ...or the stuff I wrote last week.


J.E. Stanley said...

The best method I have for writing badly is to send the poems out too soon. This is the one mistake I make the most.

If your poem is good today it will still be good a week from now. My advice is to put a "finished" poem away for at least a week or so and then come back to it. You'll see it from a fresh perspective and know whether or not it's truly ready to be let out in public.

I have dozens of poems in print that I wish I could go back to and revise (still waiting on that time machine, Geoff).

John B. Burroughs said...

I agree with JE. There are poems in my first chapbook that I've revised significantly. The difference in quality I perceive is so significant, I cling to my remaining copies despite folks offering to buy them.

The good news is that some places regard the revisions as new poems and will still publish them.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

I have to admit, I have a sneaking admiration for the BBC 'how to write bad poetry' example of a bad haiku (they note "While traditional haiku has all sorts of elements that provide atmosphere, yours need only follow the syllable rule... As long as you have most of your fingers intact, this should not cause a problem"):

I like bees, they're so
Yellow and black, and yellow
And black and yellow

I mean, wow. What can you say to that?

J.E. Stanley said...

Re: "I mean, wow. What can you say to that?"

haiku, with wolf

revealing nature
concise, counted syllables
a wolf at your door

first five, then seven
and in conclusion, five more
the wolf’s plaintive howl

compact, just three lines
the third brings it together
the wolf runs wild, free

your keyboard silent,
your printer idle -- you? out
running with the wolves

From ByLine Magazine, December 2003 (in a sightly different version). In my defense, this was before I took Josh Gage’s seminar. And yes, I now realize that this bears no resemblance to the HSA definition of haiku, but part of me still likes it. Don’t tell Josh or he’ll probably have me whacked.

Shelley Chernin said...

Seems like both "good" and "bad" poetry can be entertaining -- or not. I also loved the bee "haiku." It made me laugh, and I never complain about that. (Jim, your poem may be bad haiku, but it's not bad poetry.)

What I always marvel at is the popularity of bad poetry. The Pinsky article discussed a few days ago mentioned Edgar Guest. Rod McKuen is another. And Mattie Stepanek. I think it's popular because, as Oscar Wilde said: "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling." And many people look to poets to express emotions that we all feel in words.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

I expect that I'll never write a line that is remembered for as long as as Edgar Guest's "it takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home." I think Pinsky is just jealous.

...although, come to think of it, what people usually quote isn't exactly what he wrote...

Diane Vogel Ferri said...

The good thing about your own "bad poetry" is that the longer you live, the more you recognize it. Shelley mentioned Rod McKuen and I laughed because I hadn't thought of him since high school - when he was my favorite! Sadly, Mattie didn't live long enough to grow in his art.

Theresa Göttl Brightman said...

My favorite bad "haiku"--i've seen it reprinted on t-shirts:

Haiku are easy,
but sometimes they don't make sense.


There also seems to be a line where something can be so bad it's good--brilliant even. If one must create bad art, I say don't create mediocre bad art. Make painfully awful art--so bad it's good.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau