I used to run an open mic. A group of us would get together and read our humble little poems to each other. I thought it would be a cool thing, getting all artsy.
I will never run an open mic every again. Do you know why? Because 99% (no exaggeration… ok maybe an exaggeration but it sure feels that way) of poetry written in, say, less than 50 years ago is FUCKING AWFUL. I have heard 50 Shades of every kind of bad poetry imaginable spring from the lips of some earnest yet cognitively baffled college student or psuedointellectual town yokel. Forgive my bitter tone, but oh my poor spleen, in the role of the benevolent MC I have listened to so much cringe-worthy drivel over the years. Some people wrote good things, certainly. And some were better than others, consistently. But overall the level of dumbing down that’s become mainstream in contemporary culture is just appalling. So when most people go to write poetry, it sounds like, well exactly what you’d expect pretentious, awkwardly assembled verbiage to sound like. The linguistic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.
Here’s my advice to people, especially you millenials, who want to pour their guts out onto the page so they have material to show off their oh-so-worldly bohemianism at the next spoken word: don’t. The whole idea of a poetry slam scene nowadays is pretentious highbrow shit and everyone knows it. It’s an out of context cardboard facisimile 50s beatnik culture, with all the astuteness and urgency of the downtrodden angel refugees escaping the McCarthy era suburbanite bakelite nightmare replaced by the now familiar nasal whine of the victim-fetishizing post-Reagan identity politics obsessed culture warrior academic left. Maybe somewhere there’s a cool little hole-in-the-wall where some really talented writers are reading some spectacular stuff and having a real intellectual-like discourse thing going on, if that’s happening then I’d like to know where. In my experience, except for a few notable luminaries, most of what ended up hearing after advertising around town for anybody to show up and do their thing was a whole lot of third and fourth rate hacks. Who can even take the very idea of poetry seriously anymore? Sad but true.
These are some of my main pet peeves about how poetry is done today:
Reciting… your… poem… in…that… cliche… stilted… rthyhm…. (you know the one) does… not… make… it… more… profound.
It simply doesn’t. Stop. Doing. That.
If your poem use the word “patriarchy” in a non-ironic manner, then it’s not a poem, its a shitty political screed. Sloganeering is for ideologues, not poets. I actually heard someone recite a “poem” once culminating in the climactic line “Fuck the patriarchy!” (Round of applause from assembled hipsters). Yep, that was the really deep, thoughtful message that his entire poem was building up to. Gosh, it was all just so *literary*.
Read a damn book first, you philistine. If you haven’t read Shakespeare, Eliot, Kerouac, Charters, Baldwin, Blake, Dickinson, Whitman, Dante, Bukowski, Wordsworth, DiPrima, Ginsberg, Longfellow, Hughes (just to name a few, I know the list is woefully incomplete so don’t give me any guff for that), then you are not qualified to write decent poetry because you have no idea what that even sounds like. I suggest you be able to recite a few of their works from memory before you even try.
Why does every poem have to be about how oppressed you are? If you live in a first world country, then your life is pretty cushy, just admit it. If the most complex theme you can think up is how you’re being held down by the government, corporations, white people, or your boyfriend, then just quit now while you’re still ahead. Think of the children who might be exposed to your trite self-pitying. Why can’t you write a poem about something cool, like freakin’ DINOSAURS?
Look, I hate to be the one to break it to you but it must be said, if you’re not old enough to remember life before internet then you probably don’t have much of an awareness of what was once a more coherent literary tradition in this country (I mean Americans). Back before MTV (which used to be a channel with music videos, btw) destroyed everyone’s attention span, people read books, they listened to text-based radio programs, went to see and hear live theater, watched movies that were full of long slow-paced dialogue-driven shots written by smart and culturally endowed intelligentsia. Folks back then had a sense of how the written and spoken word was supposed to flow. More likely than not, you don’t, Pokemon generation. There’s more to cultural life than Honey Boo Boo and the Kardasians, ok? You tap into that through books or from watching old footage on youtube of some real classic auteurs tearing it up. It’s out there, but you have to make the effort to expose yourself to it.
Ok big finish:
Fuck poetry slams! (That’s your cue to applaud, hipsters)