From "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins¹
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
|Earl the Squirrel's Rule #164|
With the benefit of hindsight we know that no generation has produced more than a handful of authors whose work deserves study. With so many positions and so few such worthy candidates, we have chosen as mentors mediocre poets instead of expert readers, critics, prosodists and analysts.
Despite being found almost nowhere else, cryptocrap is currently among the two dominant genres in academia² for a pair of reasons: it's crypto and it's crap.
|Earl the Squirrel's Rule #2|
|Earl the Squirrel's Rule #92|
In essence, the "poem" becomes a Rorschach test and the class becomes a group therapy session. Other than validating Law #92 and wiling away class time, what does this accomplish and what does it have to do with poetry? No one knows.
While their meaning mustn't be accessible, the poems themselves must be readily available and in endless quantity, such that if you need a poem about a 19th Century Outer Mongolian hemp farmer you can easily find or generate one. The recipe is easy to follow. The whole idea of crap is to lower the bar until enough college students say "Hell, even I can do better than that!" and register for class. Keeping up this vanity trap works perfectly as long as Nobody Reads Poetry. Once people are exposed to better contemporary poets and verse, such that they can pass simple tests like this one, the jig is up.
Suppose every poem published and taught today were as good as this one. Why, you'd never stop singing "What a Wonderful World", right?
Hardly. Verse is already dead on the demand side; this could kill it on the production side as well. We would have The Watermelon Problem on a pandemic scale. Publications would close down because their product couldn't compete. Whole faculties would disappear from universities because students would be discouraged and might wonder what could be learned from anyone who fails to distinguish this dreck from, of all things, poetry. In a worst case scenario [sophisticated elements of] the public could take an interest in poetry. That is the very thing cryptocrap seeks to avoid.
|Earl the Squirrel's Rule #12|
Meanwhile, I challenge independent venues to put out a "Best of..." list of poems online, similar to this one. By "Best of..." I don't mean "My favorite..." or "Our Best...". I mean poems that discerning readers (tanr) might enjoy based largely on objective technical merit, regardless of source [as via a URL]. It would be fascinating to compare these lists to what academic periodicals produce.
¹ - Yes, we're quoting Billy Collins, including the completely redundant finale where, ironically, he beats us over the head with the moral--you know, in case we missed it being spelled out in the preceding
² - After confessional (aka "email from rehab"), of course.
³ - Shakespeare's plays may seem difficult to us in this century but his livelihood depended on illiterates in the pits understanding what was said. It was the farthest thing from cryptology. It observed Law #12 as distinguished from Law #2, which forms the credo of most academic writing.
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Earl Gray, Esquirrel