Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is poetry boring?

Elisa Gabbert of The French Exit asks a much better question than, “Is poetry dead?”

She asks, “Is poetry boring?

Her answer:
“Is poetry boring? Yes, of course it is. Life is boring. Writing of all kinds (novels, movie reviews, the news) is boring, museums are boring, TV and movies and the Internet are mostly boring, exercise is boring, work is boring, school is boring, even sex can be boring. Most of modern life is an elaborate exercise in killing time, since there is little doubt we’ll all live into our nineties, if not eternally. Anything novel is a temporary cure for boredom (a new hobby, being pregnant for the first time, drugs) but things become boring again eventually (even money).”

Gabbert’s being glib, but she is also raising a worthwhile point.

First, let’s clarify the obvious. Not all poetry is boring. Gabbert is a poet. No one needs to tell her this.

But poetry can seem boring, especially when you’re inundated with mediocre examples. If somebody told me that they thought music was boring, I’d laugh them off. If somebody told me that they thought reading was boring, I’d tell them they were reading the wrong stuff.

But if somebody called poetry boring, I might let their point slide.

I’ll admit that this says something about me. I haven’t worked hard to find new poets that excite me (unless you count Skyzoo.) Poetry is no more boring than any other form of entertainment. If you’re only aware of the mediocre examples; then, yes, you’ll think it’s boring.

But the academia in poetry have also (inadvertently) cultivated this perception of stuffiness.

Poets are aware of this perception. That’s why Gabbert writes a post titled Is Poetry Boring? That’s why Clay Banes had a blog called POETRY IS SO BORING. That’s why Amiri Baraka wrote an essay headlined Why Most Poetry is Boring, Again (page eight of the PDF.)

Baraka writes, “One wonders, is it still called “high art?” Now too high to deal with the angst and pain and ignorance of the real world – though certainly an obtuse registry of it. Content with the masturbatory inoffensiveness of an actual loyal opposition, inferred loudly as “deep” intellectualism. Childish feints at surrealism, useless abstraction, jokey pop art, inside jokes for the uncognoscenti, all pass as, wow, poetry!”

Baraka’s not expressing anything new here either. Joseph Joubert already said, “How many people make themselves abstract to appear profound? The great part of abstract terms are shadows that hide a vacuum.”

So how does poetry stop being boring? How does anything stop being boring? It needs to ditch the abstraction and navel-gazing and say something worthwhile. In the words of Pharcyde (last hip-hop reference today), they need to kick something that means something.

Until poets and any other artists do, they will remain boring.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. Gabbert later clarifies in her comments that “The subtext of this post is that I think there’s value in boredom. Running is a lot more boring than watching TV, which is why I think a lot more when I’m running than when I’m watching TV. The only escape from boredom is your own thoughts.”

She is taking a different tact than me. She is finding value in the boredom, which is admirable. Sadly, I can't do that. Boredom bores me.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd prefer not to respond to this post. Its noise is louder than any of its words, and it probably was designed to divide people into corners on the merit or "stuffiness" of one medium, say poetry, compared to the others.

You did say that it says something about you. And that is a valuable disclaimer. What much of poetry is not is boring. (And I say much because we still mostly enjoy, at least our ear enjoys, wonderful Carrollian lines like:

"`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.")

It is music, as you have mentioned in some far away post. Yet it means nothing.

But, yes, it is boring to have to possibly figure out allegory and metaphor (especially if you're not versed enough in things like art, literature, mythology, history and the like.) And what does that say? Is the game of chess boring? If you haven't taken the time to be any good, then, yes! Of course.

Poetry, at its best, offers insight into unseen things. Not on first reading. Or perhaps second or third. Maybe not without doing some digging on something or another. It may tell you something of yourself, or of the author. And, yes, sometimes it is not easy. It does not give its meaning nor always spur reaction like a car chase scene where things blow up.

So then what's the point? (Note: collecting all verse into some abstract category of poetry is simplifying, no? So, I don't like Monet and suddenly paintings are boring?)

Poetry has never been academic. Shakespeare has never been unapproachable. If you enjoy reading, or thinking, or learning, or discovering, than poetry is a wonderful thing.

July 30, 2010 at 3:15 PM 
Blogger Sandy said...

I stand in the middle of the fissure created by accusations of stuffiness. I'd like to be a poetry reader, but it is difficult and I am weak. That does not mean I don't find poetry exponentially more worthwhile than other acts of boredom, however - and demanding that it "kick something that means something" is assuming 1) it isn't already and 2) it's discardable if uncomfortable or misunderstood.

I believe there's always time to find meaning and where a will, a way. Anything else reflects our own shortcomings.

August 2, 2010 at 7:36 PM 

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