There are basically two kinds of poetry in the world: traditional written poetry, and verses that are spoken first, such as def jam/hip hop/rap.

The path to success for the former begins with poems submitted to so-called distinguished lit mags. After compiling a respectable number of publications in these journals, a poet approaches a book publisher. If the book is reasonably successful, the poet advances to the reading circuit, where the real money is.

The jammer starts with open mic and participates in jam festivals, where there are prizes to be won for performance. A popular jammer on YouTube may accumulate more than a million hits. These poets sell CDs rather than books. They do not write books on how to read and write poetry.

Approximately 90% of American poets work for the university, as English or lit professors, or writers-in-residence, like the author. Some are very accomplished, many never write a single line that lives in the heart of the common reader. These prof-poets constitute what is often called the “poetry community.” They run the business of traditional poetry: sit on panels, judge competitions, run summer classes in poetry. They review each other’s books. In my experience, they seldom have any use for non-university poets unless they translate a foreign poet with important credentials or harrowing life stories.

The university is also the repository of modernist teachings. Each year, hundreds of books are published or self-published about literary theory. The distancing between the poet specialist and common poet/reader started in the 1920s, when Ezra Pound exhorted poets to “Make it new, make it modern, make it like science.” It became fashionable for poetry to become difficult to read and understand, presumably like science. That idea has carried over into the 21st Century. Even today, despite the fact that many poets write in rhyme and meter, the central view is that poetry must be dry and prose-like. An idea robustly rejected by the jammers.

By Hudson Owen, in response to The Righteous Skeptic’s Guide to Reading Poetry by Adam Roberts, 10-20-10 in The Atlantic Online.


The simple answer to the posed question is, really, what makes any art form worthy, interesting: a story, song, or painting. To paraphrase, Robert Frost said that our response to a poem is immediate and lasting. We know right away upon reading whether the poem pierces our heart or satisfies our mind. Even if a poem is long and complex, we know whether or not we wish to further explore the poem. And I agree. There is no one prosodic element, such as rhyme, that makes a poem interesting, anymore than lining up the margins flush left and right ragged makes lines poetry and not prose.

The author concentrates on a segment of the poetry wars to make his point(s). This makes sense inasmuch as he only has so many line inches for his article. However, to better understand where the arguments in the 1980s came from, you need to go back to the early 20th Century, as mentioned in my previous post, to catch the origin of the art vs. science debate, which extended throughout the arts. Why did artists want to compare themselves to scientists, and did that analogy hold up—does art really work like science? Do artists ever acknowledge a failed experiment? Science is littered with failed experiments.

Response to second essay in the Series: What Makes a Poem Worth Reading? 10/27/10


There was an inventor named Klarf,
Who came up with a substance called flarf.
You could bounce it and spin it;
Ship it or bin it.
And Dexter, his dog, barked “Arf! Art!”

In response to third essay in series: Flarf: Poetry Meme-Surfs With Kanye West and the LOLCats 11-03-10

The author informs us that good poetry is like good food, and encourages us to enjoy good poetry, which is related to Slow Poetry, which is not a poetry movement, he tells us, and that we should buy poetry books from small presses, which is analogous to buying fresh carrots from the local farmer’s market. Slow Poetry is analogous to Slow Food, which is analogous to ecopoetics, which is like buying a Prius or bike (Not Nature Poetry, but Eaarth Poetry.) He encourages the reader to support your local poets (which I support) and—heck—encourages everyone to become a poet. Why not!

The author puts up a big tent. Everyone is invited.

In “The Dyer’s Hand,” W.H. Auden wrote about food and cuisine, saying that this was a subject nearly everyone could agree on. Everyone knew what a good meal was and would gladly set aside their ideological differences to enjoy a good meal. Soon, however, the food analogy with poetry breaks down.

A really good gourmet meal is often an expensive meal. Good restaurants can charge top dollar and there are waiting lines. Popular poets can also charge top dollar to their readings—but that is not what the author is saying here. He is saying that poetry works best when it follows the mood of the times and costs no more than a bowl of chili at the local diner.

Do we really need to hear that poetry is cheap, like a chapbook, and everyone should publish one and somehow hope to be that popular poet who brings in the big bucks for a reading? Scarcity creates value, so maybe we need fewer poets not more. At least we need clearer distinctions. The poet who wins the Shelley Award should be someone whose verse in some way resembles Shelley, not the opposite. Great poems come from great poets and do not necessarily reflect the mood of the times. They are not the newspaper. They are not a fad. They might rage against the newspaper. Instead of accepting everything and anyone, great poems stand for something and take risks.

In Response to the third essay in the series: Good Poetry is Like Good Food: How to Find It…and Savor It