Saturday 3 January 2015

Call my bluff

My Litrefs Articles site is looked at over 100 times a day, but some of the articles are rarely read. It's just dawned on me that most of the unpopular pieces try to expose the tricks of the trade. At how many poetry workshops are poets told to muddy the water by throwing in some obscurity if a poem doesn't sound deep enough, or add loads of white space if a poem's too short or simple? If the poets decide not to use these devices, at least they'll be more able to identify their use when reading poems, so I think the articles are useful.

The situation where these devices are more likely to succeed is when there's no penalty for over-use. Unless more critics are prepared to say that they don't understand something, or that 8 words scattered across a page are unlikely to work, then these devices will continue to be popular.


  1. Interesting, Tim. I have heard the following advice given to those who enter poetry comps, to maximise their chances to getting past the readers at least, and get read by the judge... 1) Include a word that does not fit simply in context, early on. 2) include a Classical allusion. What think? Happy New year to you and yours!


  2. Also - add a dedication to a recently dead poet (e.g. Heaney); add a subtitle in a foreign language (e.g. ancient greek); when in doubt, repeat an earlier line and continue afresh from there; throw in a few obscure scientific terms.

    I don't think there's anything wrong per se with these devices. I don't think their success depends on whether the poet's using them "cynically" or not.

    And a Happy New Year to you, Vanessa! I'm just glad that 2014 is over, though if 2015 continues for me the way it's started, roll on 2016.

  3. There’re times I’ve regretted going it alone for so long but in the long run I don’t think it’s been a terribly bad thing. The same goes for not reading an awful lot of poetry. I did try. I tried to like so many different poets. But none of them wrote like me and it was too much to believe that they were all wrong although, at the same time, I seriously doubted that they were all right. I’ve now been doing it my way for far too long to change now but I do feel sorry for anyone starting out whether it be in poetry or prose because there are so many people with opinions as to what one ought or ought not to do. It’s like that video I posted a while back where all those writers try to say what poetry is. And some of it is the most wonderful twaddle. I review very little poetry as you know. I did make an effort and committed to reviewing a book a month for Elsewhere but it was killing me and so I begged off. And we’re not even talking about so called “difficult poetry”. I don’t know what I’d’ve done had Rob sent me a book full of those. Well I do know. I’d’ve passed it on to someone else so as not to embarrass myself.

    There is a place for technique in poetry. Sadly many newbies feel it’s enough to dump raw emotion on a page and think that’s poetry. Well it probably is poetry but unrefined. And then they go to a few classes and learn about metaphors and similes and onomatopoeia and alliteration (since rhyme’s passé) and ambiguity which is a real Get Out of Jail Free card because that way they can get away with missing the mark and call it art. I’m a clever person. I can’t do much about that. But there’s being clever and there’s being clever and if people think you’re being clever at their expense well… I’ve written esoteric poems that no one or next to no one will ever get but that wasn’t why I wrote them. I wrote them for me and because those were the only words that worked. I don’t show them to many people because that’s not who they were written for; I got something out of my system and moved on. That’s a good reason to write poems. Using them to show off is a wrong reason to write poetry and those clever clogs about a hundred years ago who started using poetry to show off did themselves and, more importantly, did Poetry no favours whatsoever. It’s never recovered. Why were poets mobbed and who mobbed them? Not by academics. But by ordinary men and women who turned to prose writers instead because most them still spoke their language and addressed the things that concerned them. And that probably lasted until the Mersey Poets here in the UK but the damage had been done.

  4. Thanks Jim. Reading/reviewing a lot of contemporary poetry can instill templates and fashions that are hard to shake off (or even be aware of), so a break might be a good idea. Detox.
    One advantage of getting old is that it's easier to distinguish quality from fashion and opinion. Fortunately, outdated fashions come back again - some of the templates I used 20 years ago (that e.g. used juxtaposition rather than narrative) are becoming marketable again. The term "technique" is being used to describe features that weren't considered "technique" when I used them years ago. Maybe amongst those poems you'll be uploading in 2015 will be some that the world is now ready for (e.g. I've seen 2 recent collections that have stuff a bit like Laing's Knots).

    But "being a poet" is never going to be easy. Roy Marshall's recent becoming a poet blogpost is chiming with lots of people.