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, January 8, 2014

12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part VI

    As we cross the halfway mark some might speculate about what is the most obvious, common and egregious thing that poets get exactly wrong.  For now, we can cross Earl Gray's Law of Poetry #1 off our list.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #1
    In the adult world, bars continue to host more poetry performances than all other types of venues combined.  For the most part, we're talking about open mics and slams here. 

    Libraries are the dominant venue for poetry readings but those tend to honor poets more than poems.

    Consider for a moment the things people do and do not discuss in bars.  Of course, we can pick almost any topic but certain approaches will result in us talking to ourselves.  For example, lectures¹, sermons¹, condescension and obscurities will soon empty the chairs at our table.  Gibberish may have its place after everyone is thoroughly soused but only in tiny doses.  Thus we may have "Jabberwocky" and "Epigraph: The Pismire Oration"² but not much else.

     Politics¹ and religion¹ are borderline.  Because preaching to the choir is pointless and boring, most such conversations will concentrate on differences.  Debates are more interesting than most diatribes but there is the chance that someone is a mean drunk.  While polemics and faith may be reflected in all communication--especially before the Modern era--they were usually more visible in art forms other than poetry:  sculpting, painting, theatre, and song (with the possible exception of opera).

     Tavern conversations are not always upbeat.  The death of a close friend or relative might inspire an impromptu eulogy (in poetry, an elegy).  As with a toast, the language won't always be informal.  Similarly, poets might write occasional poems, praise poems and, yes, even toasts.

A Toast posted by Earl Gray on Vimeo.
     People can address serious issues or profound thoughts in bars [or poems³].  As Stephen Hawkings demonstrates in "A Brief History of Time", the most complex and significant concepts can be illustrated through analogy and narrative without alienating readers.  Unfortunately, poets today prefer to use figurative language to complicate rather than simplify life's mysteries.  The other key difference is that, having been left alone at a table, the drinker is far more aware of being ignored than someone publishing poems that few will read.  The imbiber understands something few poets do:  entertainment is the vehicle, if not the path or destination. 

     Obviously, sex and romance will be vital themes in bar life, as they are in poetry.  Without question, though, humor is the key.  I'm not talking about the glib, all-too-clever dessicated "light verse" and clever allusions that bring wry smiles to stony faces.  I'm talking about knee-slapping, gut-busting, piss-your-pants standup comedy.

The Evolution of Buffalo Wings

Worst Date

     If poetry is revived in this century comedy will lead the way--as it always has.

     Before I shuffle off to [eat some] Buffalo [wings], let me tie up a few loose ends.  The language in Shakespeare's plays was not what one would find in bars, even during his day.  It was frequently a lower class individual trying to guess how a lord or lady would speak, often with hilarious results.  Of course, we bear in mind that these groups didn't frequent the same drinking establishments in the first place.

     Naturally, we avoid anachronistic language unless we have a good and obvious reason (e.g. we are writing a period piece, parody or for humorous affect/effect) for using it.  What about Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Sonnet 43", though?  Outside religious colonies, hadn't people given up on "thees" and "thous" centuries earlier?  Yes, but, among many other considerations, EBB's persona was speaking in the voice of an Elizabethan because, as prudish as they were, Ms. Browning's Victorian contemporaries were even more likely to raise an eyebrow at mention of "quiet needs", loving "freely" and "with passion".  Think "plausible deniability" here.


¹ = Rants and debates?  Sure.  Lectures and sermons?  Not so much.

² = As far as I know, this is the only recording of Margaret A. Griffith's voice.

³ = Here we mean successful poems, which, in the absence of an audience today, must refer to verse of the past or, we hope, the future. 


  1. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part I

  2. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part II

  3. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part III

  4. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part IV

  5. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part V

  6. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part VI

  7. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part VII

  8. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part VIII

  9. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part IX

  10. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part X

  11. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part XI

  12. 12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part XII

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