Why does poetry get such a bad rap?
Is it because it can be bullshitted so easily?
Well, that’s definitely a big factor. It does appear to be the platform of choice for pretentious douchebags who want to appear intellectual and insightful.
But, then again, I see that all the time in all styles of prose. From articles to novels and beyond, I have seen plenty of pretentiousness, and in potentially greater proportions than in poetry.
Is it because poetry can feel incredibly obtuse at times, leaving the reader to scratch their head and go, “WTF did I just read?”
(Which I have done plenty of times, with plenty of poems. But plenty of pieces of prose, too. Prose is definitely as guilty as poetry for that, if not more so. I dare you to read Ulysses or Infinite Jest and tell me otherwise.)
Is it because we feel like it has no place in our society anymore?
Well, sure – but if we’re going with that type of rationale, any writing piece that can’t be condensed into a 140-character tweet or GIF-packed listicle is also obsolete.
Then – why?
Over the last couple years, there’s been a shift in the poetry world. A poetry renaissance, or resurgence. Instagram is filled with these poets, from Atticus to Thought Catalog’s own Bianca Sparacino, captivating readers with a type of raw poetry that you usually don’t find in your English Lit textbooks.
Some people deride this shift, calling it “Tumblr Poetry” – aka poetry that is fit for sites like Tumblr and nowhere else. Particularly, poetry fit for the teenagers who inhabit Tumblr and no one else. Personally? I love this new evolution in poetry. This raw, emotional, vulnerable poetry. Because that’s what poetry is at the base of it all: raw, vulnerable emotions.
And that – if I can make some wild assumptions over here – is why poetry gets dumped on the way that it does. Why we’re quicker to point out pretentious douchebaggery in poetry than in its paragraph counterpart. Why we’re more hesitant to dive into it, whether as a reader or as a writer.
Poetry takes a certain level of vulnerability.
Good poetry can make you feel an entire novel’s worth of feelings in a couple short (or long) lines. You don’t get to scan mindlessly as your mind wanders off. You don’t get to hide under pages and pages of dialogue and scene description. You don’t get paragraphs of exposition.
You get emotions.
Condensed, snapshot-like peaks into something deeper. Emotions in an era where people say inane shit like, “Catching feelings,” as if caring for someone were akin to the common cold.
It’s vulnerability in an age of cynicism.
To read poetry means being willing to go past surface level observations. And to write poetry means being willing to let go of pretentions and just feel (which is also probably why bad poetry is really, really, really bad).
Of course, I might be stacking up the soapboxes to step on because my own poetry book is now available through Thought Catalog.
But there are few things as potentially vulnerable as writing poetry — and then putting that poetry out there. Likewise, there are few things as risky as taking a moment to actually sit with a poem – not skim over it like a Buzzfeed list or semi-interesting news article, but actually dive headfirst and take it all in.
It’s risky to devote time to sift through it all, knowing that it might be bullshit – or it might tap into something that forces you to feel all the feels. Forcing you to catch feelings like you just cast a net into the sea. Just like anything else in life, knowing you could be barreling down a dead end road and wasting your time – or barreling headfirst into something you don’t feel like confronting.
Reading poetry is not a pretentious act. It’s a rebellious act. As rebellious as falling recklessly in love, as rebellious as allowing the tears to come. It’s as rebellious as taking risks in life and learning to accept yourself as you are. It’s as rebellious as knowing life is more than a 2-minute listicle filled with flashy GIFs that really mean nothing in the long run. Knowing that life is far more than a sarcastic comment in lieu of actual emotions.
Reading poetry is a rage against the machine – especially the machines of our own creating. We can shrug it off and liken it to the angsty days with our high school journals, or we can stop acting like that is somehow a downgrade from going numb and getting crushed by the daily grind of adult life.
And it might not be poetry on Tumblr, poetry on Instagram, or poetry in our English textbooks. Perhaps it’s about poetry in motion – and so we dance. Perhaps we are engineers and it’s about poetry in coding. Or the poetry behind a good song, a good painting, a good masterpiece. Poetry in the face of nature – in the face of life.
If it evokes strong emotions, we call it poetry. If it produces a supreme sense of beauty, we call it poetry. You can attempt to shrug off the label, but those are all poetry in some way.
It’s a term synonymous with intensity. It’s feelings. It’s vulnerability.
The case for poetry is a case for feelings. Real, difficult, bullshitty feelings. Feelings that can’t be glossed over or made light of. Feelings that might not be as authentic as we would like them to be, or are too authentic for our own good. Exhausting, frustrating, complicated feelings that remind us that we’re still alive. No clickbait article is ever going to do that.