Monday, January 25, 2010

'Why don't poems have more ideas?'

We’re talking about poetry again.

Not because I know poetry, but because people who do know poetry keep saying interesting things.

Elisa Gabbert, of The French Exit, calls out publications that publish mediocre poetry from recognizable poets.

Here’s what I’d like to see more of in submissions: IDEAS. Why don’t poems have more ideas? So many poems I read are essentially just descriptions. So you went outside. It was beautiful. Or not. I don’t care how creatively you describe it, if it didn’t trigger any thoughts beyond “Hells yeah I am going to describe this,” it’s not a poem. It’s just showing off to yourself, or as Matt Rass used to say, “masturbating to language.”

Love it. Every last word of it. In fact, it’s not just poets who get caught “masturbating to language.” How much of Moby Dick is Herman Melville describing the scenery? The same could be said of James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne. An entire generation of American authors decided “Hells yeah I am going to describe this.” Yes, they had some ideas ensconced between the chapter-long descriptions, but not enough to justify their exhaustive exposition.

And, despite my love for Wu-Tang Clan, I have to acknowledge that about 65 percent of their discography is “masturbating to language.”

On an unrelated (or, at most, barely related) note, I want to thank Patrick Gillespie of Poemshape for responding to my post. He made a point during his reply that is worth revisiting.

He said: A poor poet, but brilliant marketer, will probably be far more successful than the brilliant poet (we see it all the time). However, marketing also goes where the money is. If a publisher sees money in a writer, they will market him or her.

Then, I said: This is true, but it also leads us to a circular argument. Marketing tends to follow money and money follows marketing. Yes, poetry would be more lucrative if it were better marketed; and publishers would market it better if it appeared more lucrative. A few extraordinary types — Gillespie listed Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss — might slide through, but that’s about it. But even Silverstein and Seuss don’t apply to this discussion because neither of them are current poets.

Finally, Bloomsbury has refused to learn its lesson. They, once again put the image of a white woman on the cover of a book whose heroine is described as having brown skin. This would have been a post by itself had Bloomsbury not done the exact same thing last year.

Bloomsbury has already apologized and said it will issue the book with a new cover — just like they did before.

If Bloomsbury does this again, I’ll be convinced that it is for the free publicity.

-Jason Lea,

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Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

Hi, Jason,

Thanks for the write-up. I'm glad you enjoyed my rant! Good point about Moby Dick.


January 26, 2010 at 10:31 AM 

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