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

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Rise of CryptoCrap

Earl Gray's 2nd Law
     Half a century ago grade six students were taught basic scansion, meaning that they understood the elements of poetry better than most English PhDs today.  Because these college graduates cannot speak, let alone authoritatively, about the rudiments of verse, they need to focus on interpretation instead of intrinsic merit.

    This gave us obscure texts which professors could waste entire semesters "analyzing".  It has become a co-dependency, a causation spiral of incoherence and tenuous inference.  It spawned two generations of "experts" with no knowledge of or interest in learning the definition, let alone the elements, of poetry.

Earl Gray's 77th Law.
     CryptoCrap was born out of the ashes of poetry's funeral pyre.  It was the perfect solution:  easy to produce, easy to find, impossible to define.  One could, for example, use software to translate it back and forth into foreign languages until the syntax was sufficient distorted to call it "postmodern poetry".  The fact that it had no artistic, entertainment, technical, performance, or educative value didn't seem a problem.  That no one, including the author, bothered to perform it was lost on prose mongers, as was the existence of poetry as a mode of speech.  Magazines and English teachers had an infinite, ready supply of word puzzles to ponder, disseminate, and discuss.  It was easy for pseudointellectuals too lazy to learn whether "The Red Wheelbarrow" is free verse or metrical to "philosophize" endlessly about its meaning.  (Hint:  It is not "written in a brief, haiku-like free-verse form.")  This passed for "literary criticism":  an absurd notion that arid brain droppings are inherently superior to adolescent heart farts.

     Disinterested readers saw through this pretense and gave up on poetry (other than song lyrics).  Yes, the majority of poetry geeks are still academics but they are an endangered subspecies of literary scholars.  In truth, the average English teacher or professor today probably couldn't conduct a lesson without descending into annotation.  (Pro Tip:  Get your students involved by scanning their favorite songs.)

     As always, the antidotes to gaslighting remain education and reason.

Earl's 186th Law.


  1. Dear Earl,
    an interesting article, I stumbled upon your blog after reading your top 10 poets. I am very interested. By crypto crap are you referring to any poets in particular? Ashbery? (Yes, he could be accused of this, but he can sometimes be quite beautiful) Jorie Graham?
    I am interested in the online poetry community. Do you think only M.A. Griffiths and D.P. Kristalo are great poets? Do you like any page poets? Geoffrey Hill, Alice Oswald, the Derek Walcott. [((]Hill is difficult but not just for difficult's sake, he has something to say and surely isn't "crypto", in fact I might go as far as saying he may be as good as Griffiths and Kristalo.) You may enjoy the british poetic scene more than the american, formalism holds a little more sway here.
    Also, what do you think of the instagram poets, who are after all publishing their work online, but use very simple, some might say bad, free verse poems?
    I only ask because they are selling hugely meaning that there is more interest in poetry by the general public.
    Keep on doing what you are doing, it's really interesting to read!!

  2. Virtually all of the academic poets engage in cryptocrap out of necessity. Ashbery and Graham are among the more interesting ones. If clever turns of phrase are what one looks for we'd recommend Karen Solie, beginning with "Short Haul Engine".

    This is the key: Are you (and everyone else) more interested in discerning the meaning of the words or memorizing them?

    As you suggest, the British still reign supreme both in meter and theory. John Paul Ross remains the world's leading authority on verse.

    Of the best 10, Reeser, Espaillat, Walcott, and Stallings join George Elliot Clarke as remarkable page poets. (Sadly, come have moved on.) If you're looking for technical expertise and innovation, though, the onliners are a generation or two ahead--more, if talking about useful critique.

    The Instagrammers have their successes, but epigrams don't always satisfy. Finding someone who can perform verse is our current obsession.

    Great hearing from you! Please don't be a stranger!


Your comments and questions are welcome.