Arguing about poetry

Over at Blogcritcs, I have come under a relentless attack by one Joseph Duemer. My sin? Having a little fun snubbing po-mo/contempoary poetry. Obviously, Mr. Duemer took my slap at po-mo poetry a little personally. After reading a few of his poems, I can see why. He has an obvious affinity for the sort of poetry that is really just prose essays broken up into shorter lines.

One begins:

When I crack an egg
I usually think
of the French girl
who lived downstairs
in the boarding house
where I endured
the winter following
my first marriage.
She would never
go to bed with me
but showed me instead
in her generosity
how to slip my finger
in a circle inside
the two halves of
a freshly broken
egg shell to extract
the last slick white
to dribble it into
the skillet.

Where, I ask, is the poetry? Where is the music? Where is the lyricism? Where are the layers of meaning that enlighten our existence? This is all just description. It’s nice description. It’s even pretty in its way, but other than putting only four or five words on a line, what makes it poetry?

Mr. Duemer thinks I should not have blasted po-mo poetry through made up examples. I say, why not? It’s a quick way to summarize all that is bad about modern poetry. But the truth is, my examples were better poems than the one I quote above, so in a way, Mr. Duemer is right — I should have dug around and found something by some well regarded po-mo poet and blasted him or her. It wouldn’t have been that hard to do. So why didn’t I? Lazy, I guess. Of course, my post wasn’t supposed to be an essay (certainly not a scholary essay, as Mr. Duemer seems to demand that it should be), on po-mo poetry. I was merely pointing out an interesting book review in the LAT. But from such innocent actions come big wars,  I guess.

On the other hand, I think Mr. Duemer misses part of my point. One reason I tried to write my own bad po-mo poetry is I wanted to show how easy it is to toss off this stuff. Anybody can write,

There was a chill
in the morning air
as the leaves fell
and my infant slept on
a lilly white pillow.

What is so damn hard about that?

Of course the problem I ran into, was it was harder than I thought to write a po-mo poem. I had to dumb down my own writing so much that it took me two tries to be come up with something as vapid as the typical po-mo poem, and I think I still didn’t bring myself down to that level. Even what I tossed off just now has a certain elegance, I think, that is lacking in most po-mo poetry.

While Mr. Duemer may not like my method, he has yet to offer any substantive reason as to why that invalidates the conclusion — that po-mo poetry isn’t poetry at all.

That said, not all of Mr. Duemer’s poetry is bad. I quite liked “Language of Poetry.” It is what a poem should be — packed with meaning, subtlety, music and art. It is hardly po-mo, which is to its credit. But I suspect Mr. Duemer will now fret that maybe the poem isn’t as good as he thought, since I like it.

The poems I’ve mentioned here are from Mr. Duemer’s book, “Magical Thinking” (I’ll resist using that title to make a snide remark about his thinking on po-mo poetry … um, well, I guess I just did). It is available through Amazon, so if you disagree with my assessment of po-mo poetry in general, or my critique of Mr. Duemer’s writing in particular, maybe you should buy his book. After all, he’s a blogger, even if he’s a typical fuzzy-thinking liberal blogger, he’s a blogger nonetheless, so he can’t be all bad.

UPDATE: Vinman (he’s on blogspot, so naturally the permalinks don’t work) found the nadir of po-mo expression — a poem spray painted on sheep. This is what po-mo has wrought. It’s a sad state of affairs.

Meanwhile, Alex Knapp shares my dislike for the current state of affairs in poetry, and expresses himself quite lyrically on the point. In fact, while his poem has a certain contemporary flair, it really isn’t po-mo poetry. It’s, um, too poetic.

UPDATE: Aaron Haspel has some interesting things to say on this topic, not that I agree with it all, as my comment on his post says.

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