Poetry in motion

February 26, 2016

poetry-in-motionI can’t say I know all that much about poetry, although I was once in love with a poet.  Does it count that I love the old song, Poetry in Motion? I’ve been around poetry. Or, rather, poetry’s been around me.

Even so, I don’t know a quadrille from a sonnet, a pindaric ode from a rondel. Sometimes, I read the poems in New Yorker magazine and can only wonder, WTF? But I know a good poem when I hear one, or at least I think I do.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say I know a bad poem when I hear one.

The other night I was lucky enough to attend a poetry reading during which I heard several poems from someone I’ve met whose poems have been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. He read beautifully and his poems were powerful. And understandable.  I could see how, by anyone’s standards, these were excellent poems. Even my husband commented on how good they were and he is no poetry fan. Another new friend read a poem in a style I like. So, all good.

Ah, the “Open Mic”

Yes, the “Open Mic” opportunity. That’s pronounced “mike” by the way, and is short for microphone. In case you didn’t know. Anyone could sign up to read their own poems; no prize nomination required.

Now, I’ve written a few poems in my time and once submitted a few to a poetry chapbook and promptly forgot that I had. Later that year I received a manila envelope in the mail. Inside was a cute little chapbook.  “I wonder why I got this,” I mused, paging through it. Until I saw my own poems on a page; they had been accepted.  I have no confidence that these poems are any good and probably they aren’t; my poet ex-lover evaded any comment back then. I have no idea if the chapbook had any prestige. I mean, really, poetry is not my genre. I am an essayist, through blood, sweat, tears and, I believe, by birth.

Anyway, back to the poetry reading. Maybe a dozen people or maybe more got up, one by one, to read their poems.  And as good as our acquaintance’s poems were, most of these others were, well, they were… noteworthy.

What would possess someone to get up in an English speaking country to a random, mostly white-bread audience and read their poems entirely in Spanish? What sense does that make? By sheer luck, we were with a friend who was fluent and who told us that the poems were simply a “this happened and then that happened” list. Which is how many untrained writers write anything, including stories. She also said they were terrible.

Yodeling and lip balm

A woman who looked like an aging “Heidi” complete with dirndl dress read a lengthy poem about chapped lips and lip balms.  She held a box of different lip balms–Carmex, Chapstick, Burts Bees and more–with which she dramatized each stanza. Each stanza covered a particular balm, and as she held each balm up, she described the packaging colors and read the promotional material. I don’t think Yoko Ono has a thing to worry about.

Two young Sylvia Plath wannabes read their dark poems about (what else but) suicide from their smartphones, a trick I could have never pulled that off. First, I can’t see the small type on my own phone and my screensaver comes on about every five seconds, blacking out the screen. But these young women’s readings were flawless, at least as far as their phones went. And dark. I’m sure the excellent and intellectual Sylvia Plath rolled in her grave during those performances.

A young, handsome biracial man was the crowd favorite. He had memorized his lengthy poems and stood up to perform them. I had to admire his memory, since mine can no longer pull off such feats.  I wasn’t quite sure what made him the crowd favorite; his poems may have had promise but he was badly in need of learning to show, not tell.  That’s a lesson all writers must learn and some finally do and some have a hard time with it. Listening to him, I wished he could work with a good poetry professor to become worthy of his position as crowd favorite. Note to crowd: you’re doing him no favors.

Making it rain

But really, no one was as memorable as the older woman sporting long straight hair and a wrinkled t-shirt who sat in a corner polishing her nails with gold glitter polish, oblivious to the noxious fumes she was imposing on the small crowd.  When it was her turn to read, she warned us that the poem would be “risque.”  Ok. And then she read. Her love poem had a repeating line:  “And it rained.” I wasn’t really sure what all that rain had to do with anything until she uttered the final line of her poem:

“Make it rain between my legs.”

I glanced over at my husband, whose eyes widened even as he stoically looked forward, avoiding making eye contact with me. Across the room, my girlfriend looked at me, her eyes frozen on mine, silently saying WTF?

Poetry is hard. I was well into adulthood before I learned that poets edited their work. I was shocked to find it didn’t emanate perfectly from their pens on first draft.

Here’s the hard fact: Not everyone can write good poetry. And this is the reason I wouldn’t ever read at an open mic and why  I won’t include any of my poems on this post, although at least one is on this website somewhere. But still, I know it’s probably not very good. I couldn’t bear to receive polite applause for crappy writing.

Or for making it rain.


16 comments on “Poetry in motion
  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    I’ve had the absolute privilege of getting to know poetry while in being in a place that really knows how to do poetry–grad.school. I’ve loved poetry since childhood, and as an adult, moved to writing lyrical prose within my genre of creative nonfiction. But there is one thing that bugs me to distraction; the 21st century poets reading voice : a monotone durge– line after line making the poet sound like a zombie and the poem sound like a death sentence. I simply the hate it. The older poets don’t seem to do it nearly as often. For some beautiful poems, Carol, read the New York Times magazine section: one a week, which includes why the editor, Natasha( can’t spell her last name, but a recognized poet herself) chose it and what it is all about. I found one there by Chard DiNord , Vermont’s poet laureate, I had to cut out and frame for my writing desk. Keep searching. Good ones are out there.

  2. Oh my goodness. This post totally had me pulled in and I felt like I was there with all those poet wannabes. I laughed out loud at the last line of the “rain” poem. Oh my. I don’t think I would have been able to contain myself on that one. Your husband was very stoic indeed. 🙂 Thanks for the great read today and now I am on the look out for some really great poetry. 🙂

  3. Jennifer says:

    I love listening to spoken word poetry when it’s good….problem is, it’s not always good. I like listening to the BBC recordings of Dylan Thomas reading his poems.

  4. Hi Carol! Rain between my legs?????? Maybe she meant it as a joke? I recently heard a poem by an older author that she named something like “The Senior’s Rap” or something like that. She meant it to be funny and cute but it was a struggle to find any of it that was very funny. She also used a lot of cus words like that was supposed to spice it up in a rap way. Dreadful! But fortunately I have heard some good poetry and like you say, I know what feels and sounds good and what doesn’t. But hey, as my blog post today says, if such creativity makes a person feel good about themselves, I’m in favor. Just please don’t subject the rest of us to it! ~Kathy

    • Oh honey. She was dead-serious. She called it love poetry. 😉 Going over to your blog now. I should feel bad (badly? Pat Urban, where are you?) at my horror re: her poem. But of course…I don’t.

  5. As someone who has stood up there at an open mic and co-hosted a poetry slam, I can tell you that poetry is hard to write. It’s as hard as anything is to write, except you’re (generally) using less words and every single word has to count. I thoroughly enjoy slam poetry which has an urgency and performance that so often lacks with more ‘academically’ trained poets. Here’s a link for one I’ve enjoyed recently: https://youtu.be/Ms7wQI_Q5iU

  6. Kimba says:

    Oh, I have in my possession a full hand-written journal of some truly awful poetry from my freshman year of college, circa 1981. Do you know how hard it is to find words that rhyme with Madonna?

  7. Lizzi says:

    I write poetry, and even have a website for it, but what one appreciates in poetry is SO subjective. I could never subject an audience to them at an open mic night. I’d wish the ground would swallow me whole!

    Congrats on getting one published, though 🙂 That’s cool.

  8. Mary says:

    I remember buying a book called The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary thinking I would one day start writing poetry. The book remains on my book shelf only being opened when I make occasion cards.

  9. janice Wald says:

    HI Carol,
    I don’t know much about poetry either, and I am a licensed English teacher!
    Thanks for bringing your post to the Blogger’s Pit Stop.
    Janice, Your Pit Stop Crew

  10. All I know is if anyone takes the time to create any kind of poetry – and where is the rule book on how to write poems – then I’d give them the courtesy of listening with an open heart. We don’t walk in anyone’s shoes, and perhaps those who spoke were living through a difficult time – a divorce, argument, serious diagnosis, death. Who knows? I applaud anyone who goes before an open mic. It’s hard to do. Hooray that we live in a country where we can speak our minds. I am no critic of poetry so I’d simply sit, respect and be happy for those who got to do something they wanted to do.

  11. RANI mUTIARA says:

    It reminds me of my Poetry Class. My proffessor always give me a sentence and ask me to make a poetry based on it.

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