Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dr. Seuss is not a Poet

photo of RoseI've been mulling over Susan Grimm's essay, posted last month, arguing that "roses are red" is not a poem; and neither are the works of Shel Silverstein nor Dr. Seuss.
I'm pretty sure I disagree. (Uncle Shel?  Not poetry? How can it be?)- but it's worth looking at and arguing. What is a poem, anyway?


Theresa Göttl Brightman said...

I disagree. She states it like a fact, but it sounds to me more like a matter of taste. She prefers poems with more "nuance." And that's fine if that's what you prefer. But I'd argue that I can read and re-read something like "The Lorax" and find nuance and reason to continue returning to it.

Sounds like she's just calling poems she doesn't like (and granted, I wouldn't consider "Roses are Red..." a GOOD poem, but I think it could still be a poem if it's a bad poem) not poems. I've read lots of bad poetry, but it could still be considered to be a poem--whether it's a "bad" poem or an "unsuccessful" poem is another argument.

John B. Burroughs said...

With all due respect to Susan, I have to say that to my mind Dr. Seuss is most certainly a poet.

Marcus said...

Poetry is not a quantity of excellence; the notion of poetry is not a matter of sufficiently good quality of writing -- and it can't be without an enormous system of hedgings and hemmings and hawings kludgily working around what each school or tradition or generation of writers (and what a nightmare of knotted wriggling worms the very notion of "school" or "tradition" or "generation" of writers themselves present!) have said they were trying to do, or are latterly judged to have done, or not done as the self-interest of the next scholar may have it.

The notion of Poetry As Excellence is fraught (I don't get to use "fraught" very often -- who does? -- so I didn't want to miss this chance) with so many other problems that one may be forgiven for suspecting that it is the opportunity to dive into that morass and happily splash about for a career that is so attractive. Whatever else an academic wants, it's not elegant simplicity of explanation -- no, there's no use for that where one must publish or perish! And how ironic that the very system within which he or she works demands that he or she produce large quantities of work instead of a small amount of the excellence that he or she asserts is the essence of the thing!

The simple distinction between poetry as metered language and prose as unmetered language is useful if any distinction between prose and poetry is useful. If you hold that there's no reason to distinguish between poetry and prose, then why bother to claim to be a poet, or to recognize anyone as a poet? In that case the point of the claim or the recognition can be only -- and merely -- political. It's not a recognition of excellence of work at all (because there's no distinction between poetry and prose, how can the claim of "It's poetry" be a recognition of anything?), it's a recognition, or a claim, of a political status, a mere title.

But what is that title worth, that it is so fiercely fought over? Why do so many people who clearly write not only outside the tradition of metered language, but deliberately, determinedly outside the tradition of metered language insist that they are "poets"? Isn't that like lying and cheating and insisting one is honest?

susan grimm said...

Also interesting to think about--is a bad poem a poem?

Diane said...

Whose bad? And, Susan, why should "complexity, layers, some kind of shimmer to meaning that cannot be entirely nailed down" be any more a mark of a good poem than a bad? (Not to mention a poem versus a what? non-poem?) I love Burns's rose poem, but I gotta say, it's not its complexity speaks to me.

I have spent the past four months wading through books of poetry recommended to me by the NYT book review (and other august reviews) that are full of complexity, layers and meaning that definitely cannot be nailed down, and I have no idea what those poems are saying. I think those poems suck. But it's fine with me if anyone wants to call them poems. Just please, don't make me read any more of them for awhile.

Unknown said...

Of course Geisel's a poet, and marvelous at that, like Longfellow, Whitman, and The Cat In The Hat!

Theresa Göttl Brightman said...

A "bad" painting is still a painting. A "bad" novel is still a novel. Why would a "bad"--or maybe the word we're looking for is "unsuccessful"--poem not be a poem?

And even a mostly unsuccessful poem can communicate to someone in a poetic fashion. Just because it doesn't communicate with one specific person, or one person dislikes it, or it doesn't have enough nuance for one specific person, doesn't negate its existence as a poem.

Again, sounds more like a matter of taste than a definition.

Unknown said...

I was once told, by a critic of my work, that poetry should never rhyme, and like the author suggests, rhyming invokes song, and thus invalidates it as true poetry. I don't think I've written more than two pieces since, that have ryhmed. The critique really broke me for a while, and I was forced to reevaluate what I was writing, and how I was writing it. I can't say whether or not I would have gotten to this point without that examination, but I believe there is an inherent innocence in ryhme, and my cherry was popped by that critic. I'm still weighing the prose and cons.


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