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Passions in Poetry

For Brad

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Elizabeth Cor
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0 posted 11-21-2000 04:02 PM       View Profile for Elizabeth Cor   Email Elizabeth Cor   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Elizabeth Cor

What makes a good poem?  
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1 posted 11-21-2000 06:00 PM       View Profile for Christopher   Email Christopher   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Christopher

*People, with anxious expressions on their faces, rush toward the nearest bomb-shelter as the shrill sound of air raid sirens pierce the air.*
Elizabeth Cor
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2 posted 11-21-2000 08:01 PM       View Profile for Elizabeth Cor   Email Elizabeth Cor   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Elizabeth Cor

Did you know I played Anne Frank in HS? Hmm.
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3 posted 11-21-2000 11:47 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Choosing not to go into the "technical" explanations of what may make a good poem... (such as devices, voice, meter, metaphor, etc.. etc...there are many good books about those kind of things),  I'll just say as simple as I can what I think a good poem is (or more precisely, does).

A good poem conveys accurately the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and intentions of the poet (or fictitious character or whatever) in such a way that the reader is touched on a personal and emotional level, as to feel a kindred moment with the poet.  The first part I mentioned requires a certain understanding of grammer and a grasp of word meanings and syntax etc...  the second part is a bit more elusive.  You have heard it said that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  the ability to connect with the emotions of another person in a profound way is that mystical part of poetry which is harder to have than technical skill sometimes.  That's why some masterful writers of prose cannot write poetry well.  Poets have used the word 'muse' to describe this certain unction or ability which moves them.  I prefer to think of it as a gift of God... a certain ability which just flows and is not learned (though it may be cultivated).  Anyway if you can somehow stick these two challenging aspects of poetry together regardless of what style or form you write,  I would say that you write "good" poetry.  

What do YOU think?      
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4 posted 11-22-2000 08:22 AM       View Profile for Poet deVine   Email Poet deVine   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Poet deVine

I don't think you can define a good poem as it is totally subjective. What I like isn't what everyone else likes and vice versa. So we'll see what Brad thinks is good.
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5 posted 11-23-2000 01:43 AM       View Profile for Jamie   Email Jamie   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Jamie's Home Page   View IP for Jamie

A good poet  


Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito. - Virgil.
"Yield thou not to adversity, but press on the more bravely".

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6 posted 11-26-2000 06:28 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Okay, I think we can start by saying what a good poem is not:

a. It is not something that has been done before. If it's already been done then the already done poem is the good poem, not yours.

b. A poem that is absolutely original is not a good poem; it is unreadable.

The trick, to my mind, is to find the balance between these two extremes.  How do you do that? You have to read poetry, what is generally recognized as good and what is generally recognized as bad. You have to know what other people consider to be good: you have to talk, you have to study, and you have to be willing to change.

Change is okay because you do that anyway.

If you don't do these things, then you are playing in the dark declaring that your poetry is good with no real base to declare it so. Can you do this? Sure, but few people will listen to you and that's the key, isn't it? Is poetry subjective? Sure, but it is also inter-subjective; you want to persuade other people that what you write is good.

You have to know what the poetry community is looking for and if you don't like that, if you can find a lot of other people who agree with you, you can start your own school of poetry. This is fine too but the general community will still judge you on the merits as compared to what has gone before.  Good poetry has to be historically conscious poetry.

Can you write a good poem without knowing this history? Yes, but that means you got lucky (always a factor).

Now, the usual response to this is: I don't care what you or others think, I just want to do my own thing.  You can do your own thing, of course. There's no law that says you can't, and yet you will still be judged by a community that is historically determined because even what you do is historically determined, just not self-consciously.

As mentioned above, some people prefer to focus on the mystical connection in poetry, God's gift, or natural talent. There may be such a thing, I don't know, but I do know that a lot of what people consider to be good can be explained, not through subjectivty, but through history.  I prefer to study than to rely on my 'gifts' (which aren't all that great, believe me.)  

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7 posted 11-26-2000 07:36 PM       View Profile for Craig   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Craig


‘The already done poem is the good poem, not yours.’

That doesn’t quite ring true Brad. If your first rule was adhered to by all poets down the ages then Shakespeare wouldn’t have written his Sonnets and Thomas wouldn’t have been pleading to his Father to rage against anything – there wouldn’t have been much point they had already been done before.

Your second point is a little flimsy too, ‘a poem that is absolutely original is not a good poem; it is unreadable.’

All poems could be traced back to an original, it’s part of your following argument of a historical path, and if your rule is true those originals would have been unreadable.

Strangely enough I actually agree with your description of a writers goal being an amalgam of these two rules, it’s just the rules themselves that seem odd.

‘You have to know what the poetry community is looking for..’

I get a little nervous when people start talking about the poetry community, it conjures up a picture of a massed crowd of people all marching in one direction and at the same time I see five people in a smoky back room somewhere sipping brandy and discussing Sonnet futures. The reality is a whole raft of individual groups banding together to promote their preferred type, style, form or poet, in the first place and then poetry in general as an afterthought. Here’s another thought, Passions In Poetry and all it’s members are part of that community. In fact because of the widespread nature of those members you could argue that they are part of the General Community, in which case I think you may want to re-think your idea on the historical manner in which they judge poetry.  

I think what you’re actually describing isn’t a poetry community as such but more the media, critics and publishers who control the mainstream output. Skipping happily down the path following their judgement lends serious weight to the argument that popular commercial poetry such as the greeting card industry reflects better the general publics likes and dislikes with regard to poetry than anything the ‘Poetry Community’ has to offer.

The point I’m trying to make is that in the end popularity decides what is a good poem. If one person reads it and likes it your poem is good, if two hundred and one people read it and only one person likes it then it can be argued that it’s still good – at least for that one person.

I think this question can be pointed down two distinct avenues.

What makes a publishable poem? And why are some poems more popular than others?
I think your reply covers the first pretty well Brad, but what of the other?

Thanks for the chance to read and reply.


Yes, I admit your general rule. That every poet is a fool:
But I myself may serve to show it. That every fool is not a poet.

[This message has been edited by Craig (edited 11-26-2000).]
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8 posted 11-27-2000 02:22 AM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

I think a good poem is something that touches someone in the heart.  I know this sounds rather obvious, but I will explain the details of my argument:

It seems to me that poetry can be grouped into one of two things:

An art form in which words and sentences are arranged in new and unexpected ways,


An artform in which words and sentences are used to convey the inner workings of one's heart.

Or, of course, it can be both.  In my opinion, it is best to write a poem with the intentions of fulfilling my second definition of poetry first.  IE, get it down on paper.  Then start with the first definition, arranging the words, syllables, and everything else, to form good rhythm, meter, etc.  But meter and all the technicals are not a necessity in creating a good work of poetry.  But they are a powerful tool in creating both artistic feel to the work, and in making the poem sound better to the ear.

Finally, we need to keep one thing in mind, which poetry is NOT:

Poetry is not something for the elite intellectual snob community.  It isn't something that only geniuses with a PhD in every single topic mankind has ever dreamed up, can write.  However, tragically, that is the definition that so many people pick up when it is taught in school.  They see it as being something that is virtually impossible to understand, let alone write.  And the most DEVASTATING of all is that they see it as being something that they will never use.  

It is my personal belief that there will be at least on day in one's life, in which he/she will be so destitude that his/her only option will be to write down whatever plight is befalling him/her.  What will be done without poetry?  Sure prose works, but does it fulfil that desire as much as poetry does?  
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9 posted 11-28-2000 07:59 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad


My first two points are indeed absurd. I was trying to show that subjectivity does not lead to 'anything goes'. The first point, in the extreme, is copying. The second point is inventing your own idiosyncratic language to write a poem. The first, besides being against the law, doesn't really get at what we like to call, I think, poetry. You can compare the two poems, even admire the penmanship in one or the other but that's a judgement of calligraphy, not poetry. The second is also possible but someone else has to learn that language before it is appreciated, before it can be considered 'good'. In the extreme second case, even the writer wouldn't understand what he or she wrote because there would be no way to refer to it inside his/her own head.

Neither of these are recognizably poetry, or,if you want, they won't be recognized as good poetry by most people.

Can we agree on this point?

As far as 'the original' as opposed to originality, the original is never a pristine object that 'starts' a movement. It is a variation from some other form (not always recognized as poetry) that developed over time. At some point, we arbitrarily decide that that was the first one and follow from there.  Certainly, the history of the sonnet or the villanelle can be traced farther than that first sonnet or villanelle in Italy or France. Furthermore, the emphasis on the 'original' often neglects the real changes that have gone on after it. There's more to say here but I'll leave it for now.

Your comments on my use of 'community' are right on the mark. It is vague but I find it useful because it allows for change: communties change. Simply, I meant people who define themselves as readers of poetry (as a hobby) and professional readers (academics).  Writers of poetry who can't be placed in these two groups ("I don't read this stuff; I just write it") are left out in the cold here, not because they are excluded, but because they can't communicate on the subject.

People who read poetry exclusively at Passions are part of a sub-community who may or may not be recognized by the more general poetry community (which is filled with disagreement as well). If this general community excludes a poem, it's not so much that they are 'intellectual snobs' (all the time anyway) but more of a sense of 'that's not what we do around here'.

If, on the other hand, you can get into the arguments, the conversations, you are part of that community.  

What seems to happen, however, is that  many people who are initially rejected from this community, reject it at the same time or are afraid to try for fear of rejection.

And here we come to fractal007's argument. A poem has to touch someone in the heart. It has to be moving in some way. I admit the argument is perhaps muted in much discussion of poetry but not because it's forgotten.

It's already a given.

I have to stop here for now but I'll address popular versus poetic-academic poetry and the 'heart' question more clearly next time.

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