“who was offended by a rape joke, offended by a duckface, offended by a blowjob”

THANK YOU FOR SWALLOWING is still on holiday. But.

There is a line in the 1994 film Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle that resonates with me 21 years later, although I cannot quote it verbatim. Dorothy Parker stops conversation at the Algonquin Round Table by declaring that she is tired of the overuse of the word ‘artist’: “I don’t think that word is elastic. If it were, I might be in better company.”

I’d argue a similar position for the word “poetry”. What is poetry? It’s a form of literature. A form.

I think it is significant to point out the word ‘form’ because that means it can be prescriptive; that it has some guideline to adhere to, that there is a standard classification. This is important because poetry is too often held up as Poetry, capital P, and therefore is used as some type of excuse or reason to behave like an asshole in print.

Poetry, capital P, can be held responsible for a great many things presumably done in its name as though these are righteous acts. It is not the responsibility of the Poets, capital P, because they are merely in service to Poetry (and the Muse) and therefore do not feel they should or even could be held accountable for the bile they spew and label Poems, capital P.

Poetry is not Poetry just because you say it is. Using it as an excuse to ‘counter’ political correctness because you think that makes you badass does not make your rant a poem.

Robert Graves argues poets are journalists in The White Goddess and Confessionalism gave us a movement in which we have liberty to speak the most inconvenient personal truths and they can be canon. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” was written from a place of pain and sympathy regarding mental illness and personal identity. Michael McClure, having witnessed the first reading of “Howl”, wrote: “Ginsberg read on to the end of the poem, which left us standing in wonder, or cheering and wondering, but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America.”

Human voice. Human body. Being angry at challenge to your privilege does not put you in the same league. Political commentary in poetry is necessary; hell, it is the raison d’être of the poet laureate. When your ‘commentary’ amounts to hateful, incendiary speech artlessly designed to mock, ridicule, provoke, trigger and troll people whose opinions you disagree with simply because they challenge your world view, that is not poetry, nor is it Poetry – it is being an asshole.

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4 Comments

  1. If an author writes poetry or prose or scripts or plays or whatever it is that they create in a literary form, then they themselves have the right to title it whatever they’d like. There is no room for anyone to say, “Hey that isn’t poetry, or prose or a script or a play. That’s just shit.” Because you yourself didn’t write it, they did. So either shut up and enjoy reading it or just don’t fucking read it.

  2. There is no room for anyone to say “that’s just shit”? Huh. Then I guess there’s no such thing as literary criticism or research in literature. Do you want to tell Harold Bloom? Your introspection and knowledge of this topic will undoubtedly stun him.

  3. Literary criticism is a real thing. It’s called respect for someone else’s work and drawing the line between being an asshole and being valid in literary criticism. Try it some time. Using your opinion to “literary criticize” someone else’s work isn’t literary criticism, it’s nothing but your opinion and very short of literary-anything.

  4. Literary criticism includes the phrase ‘criticism’ for a reason. It is supposed to interrograte a text, and if the text is worthy, it can withstand rigorous criticism. This text is not worthy, and I am not actually demonstrating ‘disrespect’ to the author or his work by saying so – that would be sycophancy, or more succinctly, whatever it is you think you’re doing by defending a not-very-worthy poem that quite frankly shot first, and not just to this blog, but to a lot of people who were personally attacked, hurt, and abused by it. Personally attacking someone in print and hiding behing the word ‘poetry’ does not make a text literature just because some cis white male says so. If you disagree with my criticism, by all means, follow your own advice and don’t fucking read it.

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