I’ve never really liked poetry very much. This isn’t to say it’s not a worthwhile artistic pursuit, nor that it is dumb in some way. I just think to myself, when is the last time I sat down and said, “Man! I have GOT to read me some poems.”
The answer is a resounding “never.”
Not that this stopped me from writing poetry before.
There was a time in my life when I wrote poetry thinking it was just words that rhymed and made you laugh. As a 3rd grader I wrote a poem about hating daylight savings time and launched a mini poetry obsession among the rest of the class that took up at least a few minutes of computer lab time every day in between dying in Oregon Trail, or learning to type from Super Mario. Still, I don’t think I fully understood what a poem was.
My first free verse poetry was an accident– it was, in fact, a journal entry about the things I wondered about the most. At the time, I wanted to know whether or not time travel was possible, and if someone had made a flux capacitor. I also had some verses in there about dinosaurs, ghosts, and the Loch Ness Monster. This made it in, somehow, to one of those vanity anthologies they publish for kids, along with a few other kids in my class. After that, my memories of poetry were fuzzy, mostly because I was too busy trying to write novels and draw comics at that point (which became a major pattern later in life).
For some reason, in Junior High I got this strange idea that poetry was supposed to be very sad, and very dull. My grandfather told me this story once about shooting a man with a fifty-caliber machine gun as he parachuted down from his plane in WWII, and I had the bright idea of writing it from the shoot-ee’s perspective. The result was a very sad, very dull poem that got me into a little trouble. My teacher was surprised to see this from a happy-go-lucky child who amused himself by writing stories about jet-planes and super heroes, and my parents were just as surprised, responding by asking me if I was feeling okay. I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. Poetry was supposed to be depressing and serious, right? Needless to say I stuck to drawing cartoons and writing about jet-planes after this. The writing of it just wasn’t fun anymore.
Fast forward to today. Throughout my career as a student, I’ve avoided poetry to a certain extent. I’ve taken classes, written a few sonnets, a few villanelles here and there. I enjoyed Robert Frost and I despised E.E. Cummings, and yet I still can’t bring myself to buy a book of poetry to read for enjoyment. Beautiful language can only get me so far. I, like so many in the world, have great thirst for narrative, for genuine storytelling. Tell me a good story and I’ll be your best friend. Tell me a great story and I’ll love you forever. This is part of the reason I have no patience for poetry, and no stomach for short stories. Poems, by and large, are non-narrative. When I write poetry I usually have a narrative in mind, but I wonder about half way through why I’m not using it in a story. When I get to the end of a poem I feel as if something has been left unfinished, or left completely undone. I realize this is not the function of poetry, but something inside me still desires for true story– for weighty purpose, heroes, villains, love, hate, characters, and places, put together into a cohesive whole.
The same thing bothers me about contemporary short fiction. I really enjoy some of Ray Bradbury’s short fiction, and absolutely love the short stories of Jack London. One of my first experiences in short fiction was “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, and I remember it to this day. However, much contemporary “literary” fiction (more on that can-of-worms classification in another post) is focused largely on language rather than narrative arc. When I get to the end of a contemporary short story, I feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface of something much more interesting. I always feel cheated, as if I’ve seen only part of a story. Plot (or structure), having become a dirty word in the modern writing program, is cast aside for very well crafted language and character driven meanderings that can’t seem to find their footing. If I had a nickel for every short story I’ve read that dealt with middle class angst… I’d probably still be poor. Nickels aren’t worth much these days.
All that said, I do like a few poets. Robert Frost is one of them, and I love Taylor Mali (although spoken word might not fit into the same category… and he tends towards narrative, which I love). Still, give me a half decent novel and a sandwich and I’m good for the day. Just sayin’.