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

Monday, November 30, 2015

Greatest Poet Of Our Time

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #52
     What the word "poet" means to us can be very revealing.  And very convenient.

     Producers say a poet is someone who shares that avocation.  That is, at best, tautological and, at worst, presumptuous.

     Prosody geeks assume we're talking about those who exhibit superb technique.

     Performers think of their fellow YouTubers, slammers or open mikers.

     People who read or listen to poetry don't exist. 

     On the rare occasions when the public speaks of contemporary poets, it is usually in reference to those who bring us popular song lyrics.  For example, some might describe Elton John as a poet without knowing or caring that Bernie Taupin wrote the words to his tunes. 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #156
     Naturally, Content Regents, regardless of their level of sophistication, rate and categorize poets according to their material.  Rebels love Charles Bukowski, romantics turn to Maya Angelou, and "critics" blurb an endless list of p[r]osers who can't write verse any better than they can.

     To be successful, one must appeal to all of these constituencies.  A great poet would be a modern Shakespeare whose audiences appreciate themes that stir blood and brains in language that survives its utterance.

     We don't have any of those.

     In order to produce a great poet we would need, in place and in sufficient quantity and quality:  education, performers, directors, critiquers, venues, networks and, above all, audiences.

      We don't have any of those either.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


John Prine
     No, it's not an Oriental tourist advisory.

     The cause is information overload, the constant bombardment of trivia--"data smog"--emanating from television, radio, print and Internet sources.  The effect we call "information aphasia" or "infasia", a declining ability and desire to retain details.

     We ask ourselves:  "Why commit to memory what we can web search at will?"

     This facility of research and fact checking, coupled with the difficulty to perform on our feet, leads inevitably to a processing paradox.  As Pearl says:  "We know everything and nothing."

     Everyone understands that poetry was replaced by song lyrics in the 1920s and that copyright law was the coup de grace.  The casual sharing of work on the Internet has all but solved the latter problem.  The former might be overcome by education and expertise in verse writing and presentation (e.g. performance, multimedia, networking, integration, et cetera).  Presently, the greatest challenge facing poetry is infasia, a problem that promises to get worse long before it gets better.

     The good news is that the cure is simplicity itself.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Is Bad Poetry Good For Poetry?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #187
     We know what poetry is:  speech worth retaining (even in preliterate societies).  Prose is everything else.  What, then, is "bad poetry"?  An oxymoron?  After all, why would anyone commit poor writing to memory?

     By definition, doggerel is bad verse, the classic example¹ being William McGonagall's "The Tay Bridge Disaster".  Obviously, people might learn and repeat it for the same reason most bad verse is preserved:  as song or, in this case, humor.  It won't have the value of a Shakespearean comedy or an opera but it is no less useful than a television sitcom or catchy pop tune.

     Free verse is too scarce to be consequential.  Almost all prose poetry is the former, not the latter.  Again, regardless of whether it is rhythmic or not, speech that no one, including the author, cares to memorize and perform isn't poetry of any sort, good or bad.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #18
     All of this you already knew.  Now things get interesting.

     Bad verse is fun because it is immediately and universally apparent as such.  It encourages both the consumption (e.g. top 40 charts, parodies) and production ("Hell, even I can do that!") of verse.  "Bad free verse"--prose posing as poetry--has the opposite effect.  Those who try reading it wonder why anyone is writing it.  Those who try listening to it feel like they're being machine-gunned with tranquilizer darts.  Rather than attract entertainment audiences and serious practitioners, it drives them away.

     This leads us inexorably to a question that defies theory, let alone answer:  After three generations of abject failure, why do universities and foundations ignore rhythm² and performance in order to concentrate on p[r]ose "poetry"?


¹ = In truth, "The Tay Bridge Disaster" is not the worst verse ever written.  Hell, it isn't even the worst William McGonagall's poem about that area!  This dubious distinction belongs to "The Famous Tay Whale".  No, really.

² = "Rhythm" refers to meter and that rarest of birds:  free verse.

Monday, November 16, 2015


     In another thread a typical content regent intimated that great poems must be strong, compelling, assertive, imaginative, passionate, intelligent, moving, philosophical, thought-provoking, cultural, unassuming, vital, beautiful, transcendental and visionary.

     Two questions spring to mind:

1.  Wouldn't we want to see these things in a speech, too?

     Assuming the answer to that is "Yes" we then inquire:

2.  If both poems and speeches must be "strong, compelling, assertive, imaginative, passionate, intelligent, moving, philosophical, thought-provoking, cultural, unassuming, vital, beautiful, transcendental and visionary" what is the difference between verse and rhetoric, between poetry and prose?