Member Rara Avis
Are we really talking about bad poetry here, guys, or are we maybe talking about careless writing? When we use loaded and subjective terms like "good" and "bad," I suspect we wander into areas where there really aren't any clear answers. Worse, we put people on the defensive and run the risk of halting the learning process we all have to go through.
Those who've been around Passions for a while know that I spend an inordinate amount of time editing the poems posted on the main site. Sometimes, I feel like I spend all my time editing poems. I fix punctuation, grammar, spelling, even line breaks - trying all the time to do so without altering the meaning or voice of the poem. I do it for two reasons.
One, I refuse to willingly post anything on Passions that isn't "right." That certainly doesn't mean that everything is perfect, but the mistakes that are there (and they are there) are because of my own ignorance or oversight - not from carelessness or a lack of caring. Tim, I've heard the modern philosophy that "Expression is all that matters," and I personally think it's a big crock. Were it true, we could all write drivel and shove it in a drawer somewhere, content that we had "expressed" ourselves. Expression, for most people, isn't enough. We also have to communicate our expressions, and that job is already tough enough without also making the reader wade through misspellings and ambiguous grammar.
The second reason I edit the poems on the main site is because I hope (and keep hoping) that the writers will learn from what I've done. I hope (and keep hoping) they'll see how much more communicative and powerful their poetry has become when it has been corrected and made readable. And make no mistake - some of the most powerful and brilliant poetry posted at Passions wouldn't be there for us to share if I insisted it be "correct" when it comes in the door. I edit the poems at Passions because I hope (and keep hoping) that the second submission I get from a writer will be better than the first. And I continue to edit those poems because, every once in while, I really do see the kind of improvement I've been hoping to see.
If you ask me what bad poetry is, I can only tell you what I find unacceptable. Vulgarity is bad. Hate and wanton violence are bad. Blood-and-guts, or anything there for simple shock value, is bad. Lurid, unimaginative (or overly imaginative) sex is bad. Trite is very, very bad. And I will be the very first to admit that, in the right hands, every single one of those bad things can transcend my own bigotry and become good poetry.
What is good poetry? I think good poetry (or good writing in any medium) is anything that gives us the opportunity to learn more about the human condition. Life is so damn short. Our time in this world is so very limited. There isn't a single one of us that has lived long enough, or can ever live long enough, to experience all that humanity has to offer. Only through the words and insights of others can we grow beyond our own meager experience. That's what good poetry does for us. It doesn't have to be beautiful, though we learn more easily when it is. It doesn't have to be clever or unique, though we appreciate its Truth more readily when it is. Good poetry makes us feel something, and allows us to learn something from our feelings. Many people regard Shakespeare as the greatest writer of all time. His meter was flawless, his use of the English language both beautiful and powerful. But what made him great wasn't his mastery of poetic techniques. Shakespeare possessed a profound understanding of the human condition - what motivates us, what moves us, how we act and react - as no other writer ever has. His characters are both complex and Universal - and True - and we understand more about ourselves and those around us because he wrote good poetry.
I think underlying this thread is an unspoken observation that concerns us all: Passions in general, and the Open Poetry forum in particular, is being inundated by a lot of poetry. Some of it is bad poetry, at least by some standards. Much of it is careless poetry, almost by any standards. And buried within the deluge are a few real gems that don't get the attention they really deserve. One of the quasi-rules that seems to have surfaced in the Open Poetry forum is that no poem should go without at least some response by someone. "Dig back and find those without a response and post something," the mandate seems to be. And I find myself sorely torn between a very strong belief that everyone should be encouraged to write and an equally strong belief that everyone should be encouraged to write better. Yes, we need to respond. But we need to be honest in our responses - while still being encouraging. I personally don't think there are more than a handful of people on this forum that can turn out two or three or more good poems a day (and I'm not one of them!). Writing takes times. Writing should take a lot more time than many are giving it. Maybe if we start encouraging people to write better, more carefully, we can reverse the trend. Wouldn't it be wonderful to find a very few careless poems buried within a deluge of gems?
I think the Critical Analysis forum was one of the best ideas you people ever came up with. It can be a wonderful tool for all of us to better learn how to write good poetry. But it brings with it a few dangers we need to be aware of, too. It shouldn't encourage us, for example, to think that the others forums can't be equally honest. Nor should we feel we don't have to encourage those who post there. I deleted one post there this morning, because there's no room or need at Passions for sarcasm. That's not how we learn, and that's what we're all here to do. But, having pointed out the similarities between the CA forum and the others, there are also some obvious differences. The only way we can hope to follow the path that's evolving, that of giving a more in-depth analysis to the poems posted in the CA forum, is if we refuse to tolerate carelessness. We all misspell words and everyone (except Nan, of course) occasionally makes grammatical mistakes. That's not the same as being careless in our posts, and I think we all recognize the difference. If a poet can't take the time to correct their obvious problems, they shouldn't expect us to take the time to help with the more subtle and meaningful ones.
Finally, I'm hoping that in the near future (when I get caught up a bit) we can find a way to better recognize those gems that are too often getting lost in the deluge. One of the things many of you have heard me say in the past is that I think the forums are for "instant gratification" and the main Passions site is for posterity. As just one example of what I meant by that, "Lover's Dance" was recently posted in the forums and has received some very favorable (and deserved) comments. But like so many others, it has followed the trend of up and down and up and down. Would it surprise you discover that at the main site that same poem has been read by over 300,000 people? And that doesn't count the nearly 20,000 that have found it in their email box, courtesy of a friend that visited the site. That's the difference between instant gratification and posterity, and I hope we can find a way to bridge that difference for those gems we all appreciate so much.
We have an incredible amount of talent at this site. Those of you who care deeply about poetry are setting an example for those who are only just learning to care, those who are just learning something of the power we hold within our hands. And I think you're setting one hell of a good example! You people are what set Passions apart from all the other poetry sites on the web. You are the ones that make this place special.
Now, I suspect it's time to set aside my soapbox. After all, I still have about 2,000 poems to edit for the main site…