Why Poetry Gets a Bad Rap

Listening to NPR right now and this poet comes on, to the accompaniment of what I can only describe as soap opera or soft porn music, and reads a science fiction poem that includes the line:

His sax is opening like a hole in space.

Now, when you hear this at first, your first thought is that it’s not “sax” but “sack” or “sacks,” which somehow I like better.


  1. says

    While I like well-written poetry and have loved the audio recording of “Howl,” that must have been pretty horrid stuff. Reminds me of the time that I had to read a sample passage to a class that had the classic line of “And he put a flower in his buttonhole.” Needless to say, the class magically paid much more attention after that bit…

  2. says

    No kidding! Once, about 5-6 years ago, I agreed to read through the poetry submissions at wotmania. I quickly gave up reading it because it was so bad. Took me months to recover sufficiently to resume reading actual poetry, which I enjoy as much as I enjoy plays/theatre.

  3. Timblynod says

    Science fiction poem? Good God!

    What next, a 3000 stanza odyssey through the Milky Way in iambic pentameter?

    Don’t tell me it’s already been done.

  4. euphrosyne says

    I’m fond of many forms of prose but have always been a classicist when it comes to poetry. Contemporary verse seems too often filled with penny contradictions and inane imagery. A sign of the times, perhaps.

    But why should the novel, which came of age in a much more formalized period than our own, still be going strong while poety–its older sister–suffers so today? Does (post-)modernism inherently favor prose and abuse poem? Or just simple economics: it’s cheaper and easier to air bad poetry than to publish a bad novel?

    I’m sure there is some good stuff out there today, but I’ve never had the patience to find it. Poetry has been ghettoized out of the mainstream, and it’s tough to brave the aisles of a run-down literary minority neighborhood at dusk, looking for hidden gems, when the ruffians of the area are so eager to assault you with their clanking pithy pipes; to brain you with their brickbats.

    Oh look, there I’ve gone.

  5. Brad says

    Makes you consider why poetry as a literary mode seems so much more susceptible to intolerability (whether in terms of preciousness or pompousness or just plain old mediocrity).

    Maybe it’s the burden of heightened formal constraint and an increased consciousness (self-consciousness) about language and image. Good prose is obviously not an easy achievement, but — in my mind — there is a density in poetry, where all but the essence has either been stripped off or boiled away — leaving something exceptionally magical or throughly rotten.

  6. Andrew C says

    You should have heard poetry from this woman at this church I used to go to. It made me want to gag, and the rest of the people acted like she was really great. It was stomach-churning. Lol!

  7. Timblynod says

    Larry–I googled the ‘Rhysling Award.’ You’re right! Holy photon! And it’s been around 30-odd years.

    And I never knew of its existence, being something of a versificator myself. Oh the chagrin!

    Jeff’s right, too. There’s just too much verse. And prose, actually. And the freaking blogs! OMG, they’re friggin BLACK HOLES. So instead of eating up more time tonight reading this estimable blog, I’m gonna go find some science fiction poems!

  8. Andrew C says

    Plus, that line of poetry Jeff mentioned only serves to confuse me. “His sax opened like a hole in space?”

  9. Andrew C says

    Also, I think part of the problem is the fact that too many people write poetry. And not enough people realize how many other poets there are. I have seen some ATROCIOUS poetry on websites–simply god-awful.

  10. says

    Unless I’ve misspelled the name badly (it’s been 7 years since I last read it), they were the “villains” in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who were infamous for their horrid poetry. Here’s a sample:

    Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
    Thy micturations are to me
    As plurdled gabbleblotchits
    On a lurgid bee.
    Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes
    And hooptiously drangle me
    With crinkly bindlewurdles,
    Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon,
    See if I don’t!

  11. Timblynod says

    Larry–the Vogon’s poetry is suspiciously similar to the nonsense poems of Lewis Carroll. Only Lewis Carroll doesn’t have the knack for making his audience writhe in unbearable agony, like the Vogon’s do.

    But speaking of Lewis Carroll, a few years back when I was still laboring along for my degree, I somehow unearthed a poet that had been long buried in oblivion. His name–as far as I can gather–is one Lord Marmion Marmelad, but witness how similar his verse is to Lewis Carroll’s. And Lord Marmelad was the precursor! Eeeeenterrresting.


    Glub! Glub! went the Woxhibber
    Fritzing afore the waxen smower
    Bloobing, blibbing the silver lith
    Atop his emerald wobwith tower

    From early rise of northern sun
    When the western fell from sight
    Warbled the Woxhibber as he spun
    Until the creeping of second night

    When came the tiny sprittle-nith
    All flouping through the poffle fields
    And by the hissing of the sudderzith
    So came they bearing eglop shields

    Up the wobwith tower they sped
    And cackling greedily as they rose
    So took the Woxhibber his lithim bed
    And cast it down upon the mini foes

    Ticki! Ticki! went their shrieks
    High above the emerald wall
    Glib! Glib! Replied the Woxhibber
    And nith by nith they began to fall

    Glub! Glub! went the Woxhibber
    Fritzing afore the waxen smower
    Bloobing, blibbing the silver lith
    Atop his emerald wobwith tower

  12. says

    Oh, it was quite obvious that the dude had Reefer Madness. That or he was the LSD Prophet with those ‘shrooms and magic potions.

  13. Timblynod says

    And my understanding is that there may have been something slightly perverse in his fondness for little girls.