The Emperor's New Clothes and Student Poetry
A Poetry Class Rant by an Unknown Poet
I haven't developed a fine appreciation of much contemporary poetry. Though I find it interesting, it is often too full of angst, confusion and bitterness for me to find any meaning in it.
I'm not saying that it is meaningless; just that I don't usually see the meaning.
Perhaps it's because I have not experienced enough angst and confusion of my own.
My childhood was, in fact, quite secure and stress free.
I sometimes think the poetic artist must have the trauma of repeated psychological blows and come out of a refining metaphysical furnace to have the blade-like keenness of mind to achieve an aggressive and cutting quality of incomprehensibility in poetical form.
Eeek! He's naked.
I don't usually want to expend the mental energy required to sort through unconventional usage of metaphor, fragmentation, misplacement and divorce of meaning from normal context. I resent the attempts to confuse me with a stream of consciousness that has no anchor point or perhaps no point of any kind.
What is often even more disconcerting is the ecstatic and worshipful reaction of other people to these kinds of works.
To Be or Not
Besides all that, I usually have the impression that most of them are very closely related to the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes.
People tend to hold purportedly finely woven fabrics in awe, fearing that others will view them as inferior and stupid if they admit to seeing nothing special.
Not that all contemporary poetry is meant to be understood. On the contrary, I believe that the much of it is deliberately obscure. Perhaps it has meaning for the poet, perhaps not, and perhaps the poet couldn't care less if it communicates to others. The purpose of poetry... at least some poetry, may be just to Be.
Now I must insert my obligatory disclaimer here: I am not a student of poetry. My ignorance of the subject is monumental, and my exposure to the genre is casual at best. I have absolutely no business giving my opinion on a subject in which I am so woefully uninformed.
In a college poetry class, I had a chance to test my Emperor's New Clothes theory. We had studied a long list of traditional and contemporary poets, examining structure, style, content and mood of several individual works.
Near the closing weeks of the class the professor asked us to compose poems of our own which might or might not reflect the style of a particular poet. He would take some of the submitted student poems and print them in a booklet interspersed with some lesser known works of well-known poets, without including any author names.
Students would then receive copies of the booklet and be given time to draw conclusions about which poems were student work and which were well known poets.
We would be asked to identify, if we could, which poem was by Tennyson, or Dickinson, or cummings, or Plath, or Ginsberg, or a number of other well known poetic giants.
Not being in the habit of writing poetry, I decided I would test my E N C theory and write something very obscure, meaningless and contradictory. My intention was to put senseless garbage into written form which looked like it might mean something.
Much to my delight, my poem was chosen for the booklet. To my further delight, most class-members pegged it as "not student work" though there seemed to be no consensus on whose it might be.
I felt like the top of my head would pop off if I didn't allow myself to laugh, but I somehow remained calm.
My theory was proved. . . unless, perhaps an evil muse had slipped unbidden into my consciousness.
Today this would easy-- we would only have to Google a few lines to find to find a poem or poet, even an obscure one. Keep in mind this was back in the day when we were barely past using stone tablets for primary source material. (Just kidding, we did have library cardfiles and books.)
I can remember composing the poem while walking across campus to my next class and repeating lines in my head then changing them , twisting them into unrelated, improbable thoughts and images.
Would anyone be so childishly bold and wise as to say this was rubbish? Some may have thought it, but none were objective and innocent enough to voice the thought. If I hadn't been so painfully shy, I probably should have stood up and said,"I think this is a student poem, and as much as I regret insulting a fellow classmate, it is garbage."
I'm sure such a statement would have shocked the room. I wish I had done it, even though I later found out the professor thought it was good . . . and yes, I still remember it.
IMAGO "the poem"
Planes on the landscape reshaped in grey matter
Find a reflection the only thing real
In patterns of pavement concrete and steel.
I see at a glance all the objects cemented
By walls of my world now dissolved to veneer.
How odd that they move.
A tree is a clown with wind-wavy hair,
A bee wears a gown and is gone.
Shadows on platters stretch and recline
Stir and stand up on their sides
Run to the jowls of the sun.
The answer is NO, to your most logical question. I never experimented with drugs.
I think my favorite lines are the last two, which has shadows doing improbable things, and running to the sun, to the jowls of the sun, no less, as if the sun even had jowls, and what the heck does that mean anyway?
The Emperor has no clothes.