Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, March 18, 2011

Premises and Recommendations

Premises and Recommendations

The opposite of popular poetry is literary (aka "academic", "aesthetic", "non-commercial" or "poets'") poetry. If we conceptualize fellow performers ("us") as being distinct from audience members ("them"), we can say that aesthetic poetry is not written with an audience in mind. Indeed, no such audience exists.

It follows logically that in order to write for an audience we need to observe those who eschew one and do the exact opposite. To wit:

  1. Premise: Scansion is no longer taught in school. To no one's surprise, verse is now a minority of the poetry published in lit mags. Free verse is rarer still, simply because writers who cannot handle one rhythm can hardly be expected to juggle five. The vast majority of the academic poetry being published today is, at best, prose poetry (with or without linebreaks). N.B.: Acccentual-syllabic verse is quantified and rhythmic. Free verse is rhythmic but not quantified. Prose poetry is neither.

    Recommendation: Learn the basics of scansion. Write nothing but verse, at least until your next-door-neighbour can name a single prose poem.

  2. Premise: Little, if any, academic poetry qualifies as "memorable speech". This is evidenced not only by no one quoting it but by the fact that the authors themselves don't bother to memorize it. Enter the poetry reading. Exit the poetry audience.

    If a poem isn't worth memorizing it probably isn't worth reading. You wouldn't watch a play or movie where the actors read from scripts. Why accept such a lack of professionalism from poets?

    Recommendation: Don't just recite poems from memory. Perform them.

  3. Premise: Academic poets seek notice by publishing books.

    Recommendation: Use books to capitalize on fame, not to achieve it. Consider the stage, magazines (literary or not) and the internet instead.

  4. Premise: Literary poets ignore performance.

    Recommendation: Every moment alone and every captive audience is a chance to practice performance. Use these.

  5. Premise: Literary poets study other poets.

    Recommendation: Study poets and audiences.

  6. Premise: Literary poets avoid objective pre-publication critique.

    Recommendation: Seek out critique.

  7. Premise: Literary poets write about themselves, individually and collectively.

    Recommendation: Surely there is something more interesting to write about than poets' navels.

  8. Premise: Literary poets abide by the maxim "if you can't be deep, be vague".

    Recommendation: Try to be understood too quickly.

  9. Premise: Literary poets blame the audience's lack of sophistication.

    Recommendation: Respect your audience. "The customer is always right."

  10. Premise: Literary poets aspire to teach.

    Recommendation: Popular poets: aspire to learn.

So you see, you really can learn a lot from academic poetry.


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