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, 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.

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