Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Good and The Bad

I took a creative writing course my senior year of college. The class was educational and challenging as creative writing classes should be and still stands as one of my favorite courses in my educational history.

In this class I learned about bad poetry. That is, that poetry can be bad. There is something in us that says that if someone writes poetry from the heart, if it expresses an emotion, if it uses figurative language of some sort then who is anyone to say that a poem can be bad?  While bad poetry can be meaningful to the author and perhaps even others - I still think that we can call poetry bad when we're talking about an art form.

The truth is - there is a lot of bad poetry in the world. Just check out - - if you submit something and they offer to publish it in a book - it's not because it's good. I cannot count how many times I had that conversation with students. Just call me a dream crusher.

Among other things, bad poetry begs the audience to feel something, it uses metaphors that don't make sense - even abstractly, it uses big words for the sake of using big words, it is predictable, expected, and sometimes it just lacks the gift of a poet.

I did learn much about good poetry in that class though - and the lesson that stuck with me the most about good poetry is from the poet Adam Zagajewski - the beginning of his poem, "A River."

Poems from poems, songs
from songs, paintings from paintings,
always this friendly

In other words - art inspires, gives birth to, art. I love how he used the spacing in the poem to show how inter-connected it all is. If you read the two lines together from left to right you see, "Poems from songs", "from poems paintings", and "songs from paintings."

Just as people study real money in order to detect the counterfeit - - those who study good poetry - know when they read a bad one. And, those who study true art - will produce good art. One of the most beneficial disciplines I learned from that class was to take the work of a known poet and "copy" it to a degree. I'd find a poem I loved - count out syllables and rhyme scheme and rhythm and then write my own poem - filling in my words but using the devices of the original poet. These poems didn't always turn out good - mostly they didn't - but when I started writing poems completely on my own - I found that my poetry started to develop a rhythm and a flow.

And as I've found often in my life - poetry relates well to life. When I copy greatness I find that I create greatness. When I try to give an emotional plea - I find that it usually falls flat. When I use big words in hopes of appearing intelligent and thoughtful - I end up sounding fake and without a human connection. Poetry - both good and bad -  has taught me to search life for greatness and inspiration - and for that I am grateful.

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