Thursday, March 22, 2018

Poetry: Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Aight bros here's the deal.

I don't like poetry. Well, maybe that's a strong way to phrase it.

I'm almost completely ambivalent to poetry. There we go. It stirs nothing whatsoever inside me, I feel no emotional pull, it doesn't inspire me, it bores me to tears. I mean it gives me MEGO Syndrome (My Eyes Glaze Over) from HELL. I'd rather read Ayn Rand. I'd rather read Ulysses. I'd rather read The Bible, than poetry. I see poetry as masturbatory self-aggrandizement, and don't understand why people engage in it when there isn't meant to be any musical accompaniment, or it isn't meant to be a song. There are songs that are essentially poetry sung with no music, and those are all right I suppose, but the only poetry that's ever moved me has instruments backing it up. Usually some form of rock and roll, but other musical genres as well. So when I say "poetry", I mean stuff like Whitman, Kipling, Frost, Ginsberg, you know, POETRY™. Not music. So don't come at me with "Music is basically poetry with instruments, brah!" because I don't react to them in any kind of similar fashion. Music I'm good with, poetry is flat words in a book that don't get any kind of reaction out of me other than boredom. 

I should mention that I respect the art form. I understand that it takes skill to write poetry, just like I understand that it takes skill to play baseball or football. It's just something I'm completely uninterested in. So I'm not slagging off poets or people that like poetry here. I'm saying it doesn't rev my engine, and I don't understand what's so appealing about it. It's definitely an art form, just not one that I'm into. 

So now that I've laid out basically how I feel about the writing format of poetry, here's the crux of my problem. I've been told by several people (some professional authors, whose opinions on things like this I value more than Joe Blow off the street) that I need to start reading poetry to improve my prose. Personally I think this is a load of hogwash, however I trust their opinions and advice enough to try it out. 

Given that Twitter is a damn dumpster fire of a site that's near impossible to navigate without losing the thread of where you were going, I thought it'd be useful to put these things somewhere in a thread where I could keep track of them and so that things wouldn't get lost in the scrum of a site like Twitter. So I'm going to ask you who are poetry buffs a favor. 

Recommend me some poetry.

Right here, in the chin, hard as you can, hit me with your best shot. 

You can recommend as many individual poems as you'd like, but if you're going to recommend me a poet generally please give me one or two of their poems to start out with so that I don't just put their stuff on a d20 and roll it hoping I get something good. Because I'll do that if I don't get a specific recommendation for a poem, and everybody has that one thing that's just crap, and knowing my luck that'll be the one I land on if you don't give me some of their good shit. I'm also already predisposed to not like poetry just by nature, so if I get a crap poem my first try I'm liable to write the entire poet off as crap.

If this is what I gotta do to write better prose, then it's what I gotta do. I guess it's like eating your vegetables when you're a kid. And who knows? Maybe it will actually help my writing. I just need some help getting started because frankly, as I said, I don't like poetry and have no idea what separates a good poet from a bad one.

Unless we're talking "slam poetry" here. That's an abomination against God, Man, and the Universe itself. I don't think you have to know dick about poetry to know that, because I know that and I know dick about poetry. Anyway.

Personally I don't think I'm going to ever actually enjoy reading poetry. I can't envision a future where I'll think to myself, "Oh boy! Oh goodie! It's time to read POETRY™!" It's possible, but supremely unlikely. However, as I said, if I gotta, I gotta.

So go ahead my dudes. Hit me with your best shot.


  1. Rudyard Kipling, "The Ballad of East and West", "Recessional", "Sons of Martha", "Tommy", "Gods of the Copybook Headings".

    Shakespeare and John Donne's sonnets are worth it, but they are Early Modern English instead of Modern English.

    But the poetry is so you can hear the word choice and rhetorical devices. To learn the various techniques, I recommend "The Elements of Eloquence" by Mark Forsyth. Forsyth is also keen to use examples from oration and movies, too.

    1. Thanks a lot, man. I'll toss these in a notepad and start pulling them out once a night like Brian said. I dunno if it'll do much for my appreciation of the medium, but hopefully it'll help my prose.

  2. I grew up with song lyrics so I've never had much of a problem with poetry. The problem is that most of what I've been given is trash. Finding good poetry has been difficult, so I just picked random poets.

    There's a series of "Everyman Pocket Library" books which are pocket sized books with a bunch of poems by certain poets. I got the one for Gerard Manly Hopkins and am looking into the ones by Browning, Keats, and Byron.

    They're pretty cheap.

    I wouldn't start with Hopkins, but I think the series itself is good to start with. It's easy to just pick up, read, and put away.

    Read a poem a day. It really does make a difference.

  3. Christopher Smart: Jubilate Agno
    Robert Burns: To a Louse
    Dylan Thomas: Fern Hill
    Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Windhover

    1. Thanks! I've added them to my notepad and I'll give them a read!

  4. Edna St. Vincent Millay. "Lament", "Huntsman, What Quarry?", "The Singing Woman By The Wood's Edge", "Intention To Escape From Him", Prayer To Persephone", "Apostrophe To Man", "On Thought In Harness", "The Unexplorer".

    I am pretty sure that I quoted from all of these in The Book Of Lost Doors.

    1. Oh, cool, some names I can look up! Thanks man, I really appreciate it! I'll drop them in the notepad and pick em up when I get the chance.

  5. Emily Dickinson:
    - Because I could not stop for Death,
    - I heard a fly buzz when I died;

    e.e. cummings:
    - Jehovah buried,Satan dead
    - Humanity i love you

    A. A. Milne:
    - King Hilary and the Beggarman
    - The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak
    - The Old Sailor

    Milne is especially good when read aloud; he's a master of sound and rhythm.

    1. I'm familiar with Dickinson, especially Because I could not stop for Death, but the rest of these I've never heard of before. Added to the notepad and much appreciated, my dude!

  6. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes- a narrative poem that feels like folklore put to verse. Well-written, with a good cadence and nothing pretentious about it.

    1. In fact, here's a link. It's available to read for free at Poetry Foundation. Tell me what you think:

    2. Thanks man! It's in the notepad, and when I get around to it you'll be the first to hear about it!

  7. REH: you'll find his poetry scattered through his prose stories, The Road of Kings is the longest. Amazon has A Collection of Poetry: Robert E. Howard if he is to your taste.

    Thomas Babington Macaulay: The Lays of Ancient Rome - don't try to take this all in one bite. I recommend it because Macaulay is what Winston Churchill read before he wrote his speeches, to get in the right frame of mind.

    If for some reason you need a break from poetry, I recommend watching a production of one of Shakespeare's plays, if you don't mind Early Modern English. His influence on dialogue is immense.

    I second eykd; Prose is meant to be read, but Poetry is meant to be recited or declaimed out loud, you need to hear the words.

    1. I think I'll like Howard's stuff, insomuch as I can like any poetry. If anyone's gonna strike me where it counts, it'll probably be him, considering how much I love his prose.

      I've never heard of Macaulay before, so it'll be interesting to break new ground with this.

      Shakespeare I'm well familiar with, but nothing wrong with watching a good production of Hamlet or Macbeth again! And I'll give the recitation thing a try. Maybe that's why it just doesn't hit me like prose does. It'll be an interesting experiment at the very least!

  8. Also,

    Oscar Wilde, "The Ballad Of Reading Gaol"
    T S Eliot, "The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock"
    Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"
    Elizabeth Bishop, "A Visit To St. Elizabeth's"

  9. 'Ere ya go, guvnah:

    My very own blog post on where to start. Get these books and read the example poems in them. It'll cure you of the illness brought about by exposure to the otherwise artless ego-stroking garbage that is the hallmark of our benighted age.

  10. Jim
    Milton's Paradise lost. Elegy of a country church yard. Xanadu. The various Rumpole novels have snippets of poetry and he cites the books he gets them from.
    Robert Frost. Chesterton's Lepanto and the Ballad of the white horse. Beowulf in translation. Anthony Esolen's translation of the Infero series. Dorthy Sayers did one as well.
    Morte d'Artur (it's in English if I remember right)
    Christopher Marlowe poems; Spencer's the Faerie queen.

    1. Le Morte D'Arthur is simply great literature whether in prose form or not. That they don't teach in in high school is criminal. I would just recommend that purely for being amazing.

    2. JD

      High school in its current form is criminal. The amount of unlearning and creativity killing in general is infuriating.

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