9 - The Art of Poetry.
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The Art of Poetry.
(Part 9 of 9)
In an article I wrote for Critique magazine, where I was discussing what catches my 'poetical eye', I wrote:
Personally I am always on the look-out for poets who demonstrate 'versatility' when I want 'long-term' mentoring or to review and critique a selection of my work. By that I mean a writer who is not stuck in the rut of the same style / type of poem over and over again. Free-verse, Form or rhyming. Many confuse 'Form' to simply mean 'rhyming verse'. Form is merely a poem written to a specific 'structure' with an identifying 'label', and often associated with a historical poet or group of poets. Haiku is a 'form poem' and does not rhyme, as an example.
When I say a 'versatile' poet, I am not suggesting they should know of and be able to write every recognised style and form. I am not even aware that such a creature exists ! I am referring to the poet who has written a mixture of the three general 'categories' - Free-style, Form and Rhyme. At some point, most experienced poets tend to veer towards a particular style, but tend not to fall into the ridiculous two opposing camps that say "Free verse is not poetry" or "Rhyme (with or without meter) is not poetry".
It keeps coming back to the simple fact that poetry / creative writing is an Art form of words - subject to opinion and preference. Again, it is curious that few people argue that of Jazz, Rock 'n Roll, and Classical, one is music and the other types are not !"
Now, the other ultimate quality I look for in poetry, a quality or 'trait', which few literary / poetry academics acknowledge, is what I call the 'unteachable factor'. And perhaps that is why this remains a 'touchy and controversial' subject. Whilst anyone who can write, can then jot down a few sentences broken randomly into lines, something tells me that that does not automatically make them a poet. And even using high-falluting words from a thesaurus, plus listing their BA's, MA's, PhD's, etc., does not convince me that that is a basis for declaring their 'sentences broken randomly into lines' as poetry either! Those of us who have had the good fortune, of a formal 'education', should think twice about patronising and dismissing those who have not.
I am, however, of the firm opinion that, for some time now, 'contemporary' poetry has for the most part sadly become nothing more than an 'intellectual exercise' - something which needs to be 'taught and sanctified by the academic institutions'. Poetry, that is, which is 'recognised' as being what is often labelled 'mainstream' whereby, if one wishes to be taken 'seriously' as a poet, one must have a 'solid educational background'. And from that starting point, one should then have their poetry only accepted by certain publications, published preferably by University presses and move in the 'right academic circles'. Furthermore, it is then argued that to 'appreciate' poetry, one should be well versed in all the correct terminology, know the names of all those 'acceptable mainstream poets' and so on.
It is no wonder then that, time and again, many ordinary, everyday folks tell me they find a great amount of 'contemporary poetry' of little or no relevance to them - that it is often completely unintelligible and then actually accept the patronising argument put to them that it is because they are "not sufficiently educated."
Perhaps this view is better expressed in a letter which I came across in a British newspaper, The Observer, in 1999, written by a gentleman called John Fletcher. Part of which read:
"Surely it is not the public which has deserted good poetry, but poets who have deserted the public.. often state-subsidised poets have developed an arcane and theoretical style and subject matter relating to no one outside their own closed world."
So is this simply a 'rant' on my behalf - someone who 'has a grudge against academics'? I don't think so, when previously I wrote in one of my 2 page columns (Summer 1998) for the English magazine, Poetry Now (And apologies to those who have read this in my previous article):
"… there are what some see as two 'poetic worlds'. Namely the 'official academic' poetry world and then the world of 'non-academic' poetry. It is easy to become entrenched in the world which each of us most strongly identify with, and then dismiss the other. Sadly, many of those in one often go beyond dismissal and develop strong scornful and disdainful attitudes toward the other.
The seemingly never-ending accusations and exchanges between the more bigoted of each world continue with "Unless you have been 'properly' University educated, you can't be deemed a poet - worthy of the craft", and "Academic education does not make a poet - it simply produces sterile verbiage!" As if that were not sufficient, there are also the two 'factions' of Free-verse poetry and Rhyming poetry. I never much liked politics and 'factions' preferring, instead, to find common ground and respect for conflicting opinions. And in spite of me personally not originating from the 'University educated poetry world', my love of all things poetical, combined with an insatiable curiosity, leads me to explore both 'worlds' and all the 'factions' within. I also hold to the saying 'Don't throw out the baby with the bath-water', for there are babies in both tubs !"
So now, at this point, perhaps you are trying to figure out what point of view I am expressing - where I stand? Put simply, I am maintaining that for too long, the general public have been hard pushed to find many 'modern' poetry books to read which they can 'relate to' or find 'inspiring'. Curious too, that fewer publishers are putting collections of modern poetry books into book stores on any big scale. Even working one's way through the 'poetry bible' - Poets Market, very few small-press publishers actually pay poets for their work!
I am regularly approached by would-be poets who assume that, because I am published, I can offer them encouragement when they ask "Who can I send my collection of 50 poems to for publication?" Some of the collections I have been sent, have in fact been a sheer delight to read, but that is generally the exception to the rule. My personal experience, however, is not all gloom and doom when it comes to the other extreme belief that there is pedantically 'NO money in poetry'.
One of the main problems that a novice poet has to overcome is getting themselves a 'track-record'. The truth is, this is not an overnight thing. It takes endless perseverance, endeavouring to 'test the market' by submitting your work to a wide variety of different magazines, ideally where the readers give their comments and feed-back, either in subsequent issues or by actually writing to you if you have made it possible for them to do so, such as providing your email address.
It takes a combination of factors to reach a point where a publisher may eventually be attracted to your work and for which you will receive payment. Obviously the more of your work that is 'out there in circulation' the higher your chance of being 'spotted'. But as well as the publisher personally liking your work, they must be confident that you have a 'readership' who enjoys your work enough to want to purchase a copy if they publish a collection of yours!
What I shall now share with you, is done with the hope that you will find some encouragement to persevere - striving to find wider audiences for your poetry. To restore your faith in the face of those who pessimistically declare that your poetry will never 'come to much' (particularly if you are not moving in the 'mainstream poetry circles'), because I have long believed that the tides are slowly turning. That there is an increasing demand for 'understandable' – accessible - poetry. That long held belief of mine was again substantiated, when I was approached quite unexpectedly by a publisher.
What particularly surprised me was that the publisher was not from my country of origin (England), nor from the country I have adopted as home (the US). Not the two countries where my poetry is primarily in circulation, but a publishing house in Canada!
And I knew the Director and Editor-in-chief, Roman Bandi, meant serious business when he started discussing 'contracts'. But why me, along with just two other poets, I wondered? The reasons were best summed up in an interview given by Mr. Bandi when he explained the philosophy of his publishing house, and what he was looking for, not just nationally but internationally!:
" The editorial focus of this house is for innovative and accessible/understandable poetry and non-fiction works that delve deeply into human experience and emotions. The idea for the anthology evolved from a vision I had to produce a book of poetry that would speak to the souls of people, instead of their heads, which has happened with most of today's academic poetry.
What is also interesting is the diversity of all my international cast: I am Swiss through my parents and born in Canada, Freydoon Rassouli (contributing artist) was born in Iran and lives in California, My editor is from California, David Taub (poet) is British, k.t Frankovich (poet) was born in Florida, and Ruth Solomon (poet) is from Alabama, having previously lived in New York. The preface for the book has been written by an author in England who once sold 8 million books in Canada."
In other words, this publisher (and I cannot believe the only one) was actively looking out for work! But what made this endeavour particularly interesting was the combining of both art and poetry. Mr. Bandi further explained:
"I should mention also that the world renowned artist, Freydoon Rassouli, whose 26 pencil sketches are also in this book, was also selected from many other artists/illustrators I considered. In fact, these sketches are not illustrations but expressions by the artist of how he visually felt, while taking his own spiritual journey of a similar nature to those of the three poets.."
Now it so happens over the past 4 years, I have been involved with 2 other art exhibitions (one in England and one in the US) which have included poetry. The point being that you might consider poetry in a new light. Not simply being confined to books on shelves or public readings! It brings me back also to the point that I believe poetry should be far more than simply an 'intellectual / cerebral activity', but rather that it is a form of art - painting with words.
Copyright David Taub 2000
David Taub is a member of
The British organisation 'National Union of Journalists' (NUJ);
Columnist for the UK magazine 'Poetry Now';
Freelance writer for various UK and USA magazines;
Co-author of Language of Souls (listed on amazon.com)