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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Poetry Genres: Part IV - The Essence of Pose Poetry

"...ninety percent of [everything] is crud."

- Sturgeon's Revelation (1958)

We don't know exactly what dark matter is or does but, according to Fritz Zwicky's 1934 postulations, we need it to complete the universe. Think of it as filler, comprising 5/6ths (83%) of all matter, but quite apart and different from normal, visible stuff. Think of it as matter that, for most of us, doesn't really matter.

Now consider any of your favorite endeavors. Many sporting events take three hours to show you one hour of action, and much of that "action" is jostling for position. In his day, Shakespeare's plays took five hours for less than two hours of theatre, the rest of the time being consumed with commentary and commerce. Thus, in addition to Sturgeon's Revelation, we have Zwicky's Constant, one that is literally universal: "83% of everything is fluff."

It is worth interjecting that, while crud pleases no one, fluff is designed to interest us. Those Superbowl commercials attempt to catch our eye and entertain us. Ditto the jugglers, mimes and prostitutes in Shakespeare's theatres. Ditto the announcers.

Let's do the math. Of course, the order in which we apply Sturgeon's Revelation and Zwicky's Constant doesn't affect the bottom line.

Sturgeon first: 100% - 90% - (83% of the remaining 10%) = 1.7%

Zwicky first: 100% - 83% - (90% of the remaining 17%) = 1.7%

This means that we get a return of 1.7 cents on our entertainment dollar. It means that in a three hour sporting event our heart rate will rise for only 3.06 minutes. It means that only 17% of any newspaper is news and only 1.7% is headline news. It means that 98.3% of any poetry magazine or collection will be jetsam. Is it bad poetry or is it non-poetry? Crud or fluff?

Who knows?

Who cares?

The bottom line is that a typical monthly poetry 'zine that accepts 10 submissions per issue will produce 20 poems, only two of which are downright good, each year. Before we rush off to demand refunds, though, let's remember that Sturgeon's and Zwicky's percentages have applied since the dawn of humankind and the universe, respectively. Art and sports survive in spite of these numbers...or, dare I suggest, in part because of them? Does the valley not make the mountain?

"Vanessa Place is taking legal briefs that she writes during the day in the law field. And she doesn't do anything to them, she just represents those as poetry."
- Kenneth Goldsmith

No doubt you've noticed that very little of what is published in poetry books and 'zines today qualifies as metrical or free verse, or as prose poetry. Rather, it is prose posing as poetry. "Pose poetry".

Pose poems may be distractions, I suppose, but like Shakespeare's hawkers and Superbowl commercials, they are designed to please, no less so than the main event. As with any form of communication, pose poetry can be every bit as profound, funny or provocative as actual poetry. It serves the same function as a newspaper's editorials, funny pages, horoscopes and crossword puzzles. Most importantly, pose poetry serves as filler. Who would subscribe to a 'zine that prints 20 submissions per year, only (.017 x 120 = 2.1) two of which are any good? Who would buy "Best American Poetry" if it included only (.017 x 75 = 1.275) one poem?

It's like Catholic penance viewed in rewind mode. You have to suffer through 25 Charles Bukowskis and, say, 24 Mary Olivers before you can fully enjoy a Margaret A. Griffiths. You have to endure 25 Thomas Tussers and 24 William McGonnagalls before you can truly appreciate a John Donne. You have to slog through 25 Lawrence Ferlinghettis and 24 Billy Collins before you can measure a D.P. Kristalo.

If every poem in every book and 'zine were half as good as A. E. Stallings' "Antiblurb" we'd have a "Watermelons Gone Wild" problem: without chaff we'd be less able to discern great from good, good from mediocre. We'd be spoiled. Ergo, as readers or writers we needn't be too concerned that ubiquitous brain droppings, meanderings, cryptocrap, heart farts, navel bombardments and other forms of verbal styrofoam aren't poetry. Very little is and, as the seconds pass, fewer and fewer will care.

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