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, October 31, 2014

Would bees mourn?

     Like pollen, poetry cannot be stolen because it is designed to be taken.  Flowers provide sweetness to encourage this "theft", along with a compact size to facilitate carriage, whole and intact.

     No bees?  No pollinization.  No flowers.

     One of my favorite parlor tricks exercises is to ask people to go to a particular webzine edition that includes ten fine pieces, one of which is among the best poems of this century.  I ask participants which individual work they liked most and why.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #16

    All things being equal, we'd expect tastes to be rather evenly distributed, averaging 10% for each of the ten published poems.  In practice, favorite subjects and genres (e.g. humor, romance and drama--in that order--beating out lectures, diatribes and diary entries) will affect, if not determine, the results.  Indeed, one of the poems is arguably the best romantic verse written in this century.

     The results?  The love poem does, indeed, beat the average but not by much, probably because the poet was more erudite than most readers.  It is another poem that consistently gains more than 60% of the overall vote.  Almost 70% of non-academic poets settle on the same selection.  More than 80% of academic poets agree.  Among geeks, the consensus¹ is in the high 90s.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #43
     It is a choice that surprises even the choosers.  "I don't usually like this sort of thing" is a familiar refrain.  What is more, the result is reliable and predictable.  Anyone who has studied the craft could bet that every significant demographic would come to the same conclusion. 

     What does this prove?  Contrary to Convenient Poetics doctrine, quality exists, such that it isn't "just a matter of taste."  Contrary to Content Regents, poetry isn't evaluated by its subject matter or purpose.  Contrary to fetishist assumptions, great art defines its genre, not vice versa.  Contrary to conventional academic thought, quality does not require degrees to produce or explanations to appreciate.  Finally, contrary to critical theory today, reviewers aren't asked for their opinion.  Rather, they face an impossible task:  predicting the reaction of audiences that don't exist.


¹ - This is the Egoless Effect:  The more people know about a subject the less their evaluations differ.

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