View Full Version : The poetry genre is restrained

07-28-2005, 02:51 PM
It is my intention here to start up an interesting conversation.

During my years studying Sociology, I spent a great deal of time studying art in terms of how it both affects and is affected by society. I found that the advent of Modernity, though initially intended as a break from the predetermined values and norms of most artistic pursuits, especially poetry and painting, led directly into the mouth of an obvious paradox. The paradox is thus: the intentional break from the norm meant that so called 'real' art HAD to be broken and fragmented. The landscape was scoffed at, even if it contained deep meaning. The sonnet was swept under the carpet.

In the 1930s, poets who were not of an academic background found it very difficult to publish work that WASN'T of traditional form. In Sylvia Plath's time, it was popular for the structure of poetry to tell more about poetry itself than about the actual poem. Art for the sake of art was born in modernity. Art for the artist alone.

To verify this thesis, I actually did a study on what the average Joe enjoys in poetry. Rhyming was at the top of the list. As a poet, I find that rhyme, if done well, can be a vital part of the rhythm of the piece. Rhythm and rhyme are used to set the mood of the piece. Nowadays most markets will not even consider poetry that rhymes, while other markets won't consider poetry that doesn't. There is a concept among the artistic elite (better described as 'art snobs') that if poetry rhymes it is too typical, and therefore meaningless. This idea falls into exactly what modernity pretended to reject in the first place: a definitive structure behind art. Anyway, most published poetry doesn't rhyme, so surely the rhyming poetry is the atypical.

Personally, not all of my poetry rhymes, but to be honest most of it does. That is just my poetic style. It says nothing else about my poetry what so ever. I refuse to limit myself to any particular artistic mold. As I've said, in my study most appreciators of art enjoyed rhyming poetry. Most connoisseurs did not really care what the format of the poem was, so long as it was good. Most Literature students simply ADORED Sylvia Plath whilst LOATHING Edgar Allan Poe and believing Shakespeare was RATHER GENIUS but not suiteable for the present age. (The pretention in that sentence is fully intentional.) My point is this: does this attitude fit with the desires of most people who would actually read poetry? Does this attitude fit with the appreciation of real art? Of theme and human expression? I put it to you that any such strict regimentation stands directly between the artist and his or her desire for human expression. I put it to you that this attitude alienates people from art. Would poetry sell more if less editors were Literature graduates? Sociology says, sadly, yes. When art is made for the artist to appreciate, and when the greater desires of art are forgotten, we are truly giving humanity itself a poor trial.

Again, I wanted to incite a conversation here. This is what I think. I'd love to hear what all of you think. Please don't just reply by saying that we are actually in the postmodern age. That is a highly contentious argument, and if you want to know why, read Bauman's Intimations of Postmodernity. Both sides of the arguemnt are compelling and inconclusive in equal measures.

07-28-2005, 08:08 PM
I like to keep things simple. Poetry is a voice. Painting a vision. Both created by the artist to make a statement. Actually the more outrageous, the more attention it gets and it is then a statement made. Boredom sets in if all is the same. If the voice comes out as rhyme, and with a good meter, so much the better, if not, hopefully it will still get the message out. I can't make it be one or the other, it will be then forced. I can only listen and write.

If I paint or write a poem with selling in mind I lose me. To be genuine and appeal to my audience I have to keep it from the heart, not from the billfold. That way my statement is made.
If one other person sees your work and says "Whoa--yeah." You have accomplished your goal.
Artists always see things differently. It's their job.
Thanks for the topic!

07-29-2005, 06:44 PM
This is an interesting discussion. For me personally the form of what I read or write is less important than whether the individual piece speaks to me. I personally never know whether I am going to use rhyme or free verse when I sit down to write. It's more a matter of how I feel. I do agree that the almost complete absence of rhyme in what might be thought of as 'highbrow' publications is a loss to our society. Rhyme is entertaining, fun, stimulating in ways that free verse frequently is not.
I understand the point made earlier about rhymes sometimes seeming forced, however I don't agree that rhymes have to be spontaneous. Thomas Gray reworked and revised his 'Elegy from a country churchyard' for seven years before he published it and it remains one of the beacons of english literature. I would direct anyone who has not read Ted Kooser's 'The Poetry Home Repair Manual' to get a copy and read it. If a rhyme seems forced ( and I know I have been guilty of this frequently) it is often because not enough time has been spent on the piece and it has been released still unpolished. I don't subscribe to the view that free verse is a preferable form. In fact just because you don't notice that a rhyme has been forced in free verse doesn't mean that the product you see is more polished. In fact in some cases it's almost worse because it seems that less care has to be taken with free verse ( of course that isn't true - but someone might feel that they could get away with it).
In discussions of this kind there's always a danger of using generalizations, but over all I do agree with Luke's premise that modern poetry sadly lacks sufficient representation from rhyming work, which were it seen more often would increase the popularity of poetry the world over and probably stimulate more participation in our art form.
I do not believe, however, that rhyme is superior to other forms, just an essential ingredient which is sadly over looked.
History is a great judge finally, and while new inventions and customs do pave the way of progress, seldom do they utterly replace traditional methods that have stood the test of time. I believe that there is room for all and all should be welcomed.

07-29-2005, 07:58 PM
Excellent topic!

Didn't we all start out reading carefully metered, rhyming poetry? (Luke, maybe that's why, in your study, the average Joe gravitates to it) Then we became teenagers and just about the same time we discovered love hurts, we also discovered free verse. Some folks who write poetry don't ever take it any father than that.

What "rules" there may have been in formal poetry were never learned, or tossed out the window. New, young poets, (I think) are not going back to study at least some basics of formal poetry on their own. Paraphrasing Uncle Jim: "you must first learn the rules to bend them."

Again, just my opinion: Most of this very personal free verse flying around in cyberspace cheapens the genre. It's possible for free verse to transcend diary/journal status to universal without being obtuse. (It takes some wisdom to know the difference)

KTC: you mentioned: "That's what I like about poetry...its in-the-moment feeling. "
I say: Heck yes!
And it's the same with fiction. If one devours a chapter of engaging fiction, one can barely remember what room they are sitting in. Yet, that author may have spent an entire month reworking that piece to get it to that stage.

It's not a big leap to see the corallation. If one has poetry tools in their mental toolbox a piece can still "feel in-the-moment", yet have been re-worked numerous times for word choice, syllables, metaphors, beat, line-breaks, etc.

Luke: "I put it to you that any such strict regimentation stands directly between the artist and his or her desire for human expression. I put it to you that this attitude alienates people from art."

Human expression is snippets of emotion and ideas...art is how one attempts to apply the tools and the wisdom of a given medium to shape an expression/idea into something universally powerful. (not necessarily universally accepted)

One more opinion: "modernity" wouldn't be a word if it didn't stand on the shoulders of tradition.

07-30-2005, 02:15 AM
rhyme all depends on the poets style and preference,
it has nothing to do with good and bad.

bob dylan starting writing songs as a young man, and they just came to him,
maybe he started rhyming because he thought that was how they should be written (a lot of people think that...) but thats how he started, and it looks like thats how he'll finish.

leonard cohen studied poetry, made it his lifes work, knows all about it.
a lot of his songs rhyme. most of them do.
thats his preference.

bob dylan is a visionary, but his poems rhyme, hmmm... now theres a dilemma.

leonard cohen is one of the best songwriters, most of his stuff rhymes too, OH MY GOD!!
you DON'T have to be an ignorant simpleton redneck to rhyme...
wow, now thats a discovery.

07-30-2005, 04:32 AM
hmmm. I get slapped every time I open my mouth on the poetry subject. But here goes. I think we all have something to say, and a voice to say it in. I hate to analyze poetry. I think it should be appreciated but not studied. It is like air...one should breathe in its goodness, let it cleanse you of the intoxicants that you will be free to exhale after reading it. Yes...I am certifiably crazy. I can say these things without wincing. Problem is, people cannot read them without wincing. I myself cringe at rhyming poetry more often than I cringe at non-rhyming. It's not the rhyming I don't like it's bad poets trying to fit a thought into the narrow confines of rhyming words. When they start trying to find a word to go with, say "sensual", they lose the natural flow of thought that a poem should convey. You can literally see the 5 minutes between the first word 'sensual' and the next needed rhyme word. This kills a poem. If a good poet is giving a rhyme poem...it reads like it was written in the moment. That's what I like about poetry...its in-the-moment feeling. Once you can see the scaffolding behind the poem it becomes static to me. I'm not qualified to reply to most of what you said...since it seems to me you must have at some point studied poetry. I have never studied it. I have only read it. And I have always read it. I love poetry in every form...as long as the poem itself is good, which I suppose is relative. (I do have to say though that I liked your comment about poetry selling more if less editors were literature graduates. I sometimes think editors choose a poem for its incongruence...thinking the reader might mistaken it for literature. <I'm sure this is going to be slap number two for me!)

Thanks for opening the discussion. I will read on...hoping to be further enlightened by the comments made by others.

I think we're on very similar pages here KTC and for anyone that thought you were denigrating rhyme here is ample proof you were not:

It's not the rhyming I don't like it's bad poets trying to fit a thought into the narrow confines of rhyming words

I exactly agree with your sentiments, perhaps with the exception that I would say that good poets make frequent revisions when they are not happy and also occasionally let sub par work through the cracks - so not just bad poets cram stuff in although it is more often the fault of a bad poet. My contention is that its easier for a bad poet to get away with faulty work in free verse because it isn't so immediately obvious. It takes a skilled technician to produce consistently high quality rhyme.

07-30-2005, 04:28 PM
This did turn out to be an interesting thread! Maybe it's because we're all artists that we are all on similar pages in how we define poetry. I agree with everyone so far. A great poet can make anything great, regardless of form, method, or even subject matter. One can compare Blake writing about a flower to Whitman writing about lonliness and the emptiness of death (O My Soul is one of my favourite poems, and it doesn't rhyme) to one of the many unnamed poets who described the front lines of a World War and did not live to see their work in print. It is all genius, in my opinion, because each writer was nothing but a mechanism.

I especially liked the comment (I think if was Wordsoup) made about the nature of art. I would argue first that art is universally undefinable, and second that, therefore, everyone is entitled to an opinion about it. My opinion is that art is an enigma. THE enigma. All the artist does is try to capture that enigma. Art is all that we can and will ever percieve. All the beauty from without and from within. The artist catches a piece of it and attempts to turn it into self expression. We create a channel with our craft to, for one glorious moment, stand beside the divine and say: "I can see you." That's just what I think.

Aldous Huxley said that writers and poets practise alchemy in reverse: we touch the gold of experience and attempt, with all our efforts and our craft, to transverse it into lead upon the page.

This is why I don't like to see regimentation anywhere near art. Art is sacred. If one were to ask me to say in a word what I think it is to worship life, each other, God, I would say: art.

07-30-2005, 04:57 PM
"You're absolutely right. I quess I make a retraction. I just think in terms of how I write, I guess."

KTC - No retraction necessary! If that's how you write poetry, (and I've seen your pieces in the poetry game) then you have a special gift of the ability to hear words that "fit"! (and more)

"This is why I will never be a good poet!"

OH, B.S.! ... Want to know why?

"I have only read it. And I have always read it. I love poetry in every form..."

You've studied poetry, you just don't know it. We've all come by our knowledge in different ways, along different paths.

It's not a big leap to see the corallation. If one has poetry tools in their mental toolbox a piece can still "feel in-the-moment", yet have been re-worked numerous times for word choice, syllables, metaphors, beat, line-breaks, etc.
(I wrote that in response to something you said, but I was more directing it toward any young pup who would read your method and think, "Yeah, that's how I do it and I think I'm brilliant!"... So for that, I owe an apology to you.)

07-30-2005, 09:18 PM
"This is why I don't like to see regimentation anywhere near art. Art is sacred. If one were to ask me to say in a word what I think it is to worship life, each other, God, I would say: art."

Luke, we are on the same page here. Thank you for putting it so well. I have great admiration for many of the poets in this forum, and respect for our differences in the way we approach and write poetry. It's great.

Yes, I know I sound like a pollyanna, if you want to read me onery and full of it, I usually let it out in "Office Party"!


07-31-2005, 01:05 AM
You are helping nobody with your attitude. If you have a preference, by all means announce it. Myself, I love both Cohen and Dylan. Did anybody in this thread say that only ignorant simpleton rednecks rhyme? I don't remember seeing that anywhere. This is an interesting thread. Don't wreck it with sarcasm. I appreciate rhyme when it is done by master poets. And yes, Cohen and Dylan are master poets.

no friend, i mean a lot of art majors, and that kind of thing, the arrogant guy who thinks he knows all about poetry, like what luke said at the beginning.

you dig?

07-31-2005, 04:40 AM

Tell me now if you think I'm way off base... 'cause maybe I don't dig...

"...the arrogant guy who thinks he knows all about poetry, like what luke said at the beginning."

Are you saying that you think Luke is arrogant and knows all about poetry because he's studied Sociology and art formally?

07-31-2005, 07:07 AM
I really cannot see what is arrogant about

Again, I wanted to incite a conversation here. This is what I think. I'd love to hear what all of you think.


07-31-2005, 07:20 PM
Ahhh.. I just re-read what Godfather actually said, and I think I misunderstood.
I don't think Godfather was referring to Luke at all when he said 'the arogant guy that thinks he knows all about poetry, like what Luke said at the beginning' - I think now that he was referring to the type of guy described by Luke as in Luke's comment 'There is a concept among the artistic elite (better described as 'art snobs')....' I've no idea why I came, ok, jumped, to the wrong conclusion. My apologies on that one.

So Godfather and Luke are actually agreeing... although, GF, I don't think you can cite three songwriters as evidence that rhyming poetry works, after all they may be great poets.. but songs DO rhyme.. that is just what songs do. Poetry is a broader arena than that. Can you really say that the rhyming poetry they wrote stands without the melody/rhythm of the song? And songs do stress/elongate words differently than they would normally sound, as well as permit pauses the ordinary poet cannot so easily achieve.

08-01-2005, 08:02 AM
I've read a few of the posts, don't have the concentration to read them all now. But I think I can make a contribution.

Isn't it true that Whitman was the first "free verse" poet? And of course, very few recognized his genius, Emerson being his first champion.

Yes, contrast that with today, when, as you said, it can be difficult to get a rhymed poem published. Perhaps it does have to do with a conscious or unconscious sense of fragmentation. Books have been written on that subject, I feel sure.

I participate on the Poemhunter site and read dozens of poems, most days. I would say the majority of the poems posted there rhyme. Most of these, I think, are from naive writers to whom "poem" still means "rhyme". In fact, I believe many people feel that writing words that rhyme makes one a poet.

A great many of these rhyming pieces are extremely heavy-handed, though. The lines are like a car that's going down one road, then lurches violently to get back to "where the poem is supposed to be" at the end of the line, pulling some rhyme out of left field. Sometimes you can tell the word that rhymed has determined the content of the line, like a car that either takes frequent detours or else is just driving aimlessly--"I'll go to that town. Now I'll go to that one!" I guess it's good that these folks are writing, expressing their feelings about being broken up with (a perennial topic) or whatever it is.

Then there are a minority of poems with rhymes that sound natural. I personally see no substantial difference between these poems and a good poem in "free verse". (Free verse poems can be extremely obscure to me, and I'm less likely to ding them, it's easier to get away with it when you don't have to march in rhythm, there may be something very profound being said, and I may be the dense one. I know sometimes that's true.) I tend to read and judge a poem on its own merits.

What the publishing industry does is another matter, and I don't know the sociological reasons for the current trends. But I can say that the sonnet form, to name one rhymed form, is alive and very well among many writers today.

08-01-2005, 09:36 AM
I've had this idea on poetry for quite some time, about poetry.

poetry is interesting when it rhymes, granted. But, it all boils down to the flow. To the picture painted. To how dramatic, or how real what you read is. If it is a good poem, you really don't sit there and thinkg "iambic... with a good 5,6,5,6 beat...." you go "wow, good idea." or, " that had a great emotional appeal". Further more, those who know little about poetry besides that they enjoy reading it. Care even less about those things. What matters is the message, If you have to plot and toil over what it is you are trying to rhyme with... I feel that it shouldn't be a halt. Like someone said, poetry is like air. But at the same time. Air has its purpose. and using the metaphore of poetry being air, It seems that too often poets are caught trying to "breath" underwater. If the words that you want don't come, use the ones that do.

I don't want to be one of those know-it-all guys. But i feel that a poet, needs to feel like, when he write, he knows exactly how to do what he is doing. That's, in my opinion, why we come across the "genius" poet who finds a poem where he can rhyme 17 beat words, or because he thinks that poetry should absolutely have no rhyme. Its all based on opinion, and how thoroughly founded your opinion is. It's all about what works best with your pen on your sheet of paper. And I belive however un-talented the writer, if they put everything the believe into what they write. they've done just as good as any other poet. Even the dead famous ones. We all write for expression, to deliver our voice for our specific reasons. If you feel that is accomplished, you have accomplish the title poet. When someone else receives your poetry and they feel what you intended, thats when poets recognize you as a poet. ( thats just my two cents, i'm sure that is way off to some, and head on with others.)


08-01-2005, 04:25 PM
I'm having trouble understanding what some people are actually saying. Sorry guys. It's my turn to be thick. ;)

From what I understand, and correct me if I'm wrong, Zaahk and Maxreif are both saying that rhyming poetry is often heavy handed and disjointed. I think you're both also saying that so long as a poem has emotional depth, it is a good poem. Poems, like stories, should speak for themselves. I actually think that about all art. I don't like paintings that need to be explained either. It should convey a message on an intuitive, even subconcious level. That's just my personal preference though. I do understand that many people enjoy art that is convoluted to the point that one has to really analyse it to comprehend its meaning. I think all art can be great so long as it actually expresses something, whatever form.

Going back to songs, one of my favourite songwriters is actually Zack DeLaRocha from Rage Against the Machine, a Native American rap group. A little quote goes:
'A mass of hands press on the market window.
Ghosts of progress, dressed in slow death,
Feeding on hunger are glaring through the promise,
Upon the food that rots slowly in the aisle.
A mass of nameless, at the oasis,
Where hide the graves beneath the master's hill,
Are buried for drinking the river's water
While shackled to the line at the empty well.'

This I think can be read and appreciated without the music. In fact, if you don't like heavy metal and/or rap, you wouldn't appreciate it WITH the music. (I should say that I'm a Dylan fan too. I just love music.) This poem doesn't rhyme, but then when Robert E. Howard starts writing in A Song Out of Midian:

'Galleys shall break the crimson seas seeking delights for you;
With silks and silvery fountain gleams I will weave a world that glows and seems
A shimmering mist of rainbow dreams, scarlet and white and blue.

Or is it glory you wish, Astair, the clash and the battle-flame?
The winds shall break on the warship's sail and Death ride free at my horse's tail,
Till all the tribes of the Earth shall wail at the terror of your name.'

This, to me, is an example of seamless, perfect rhyme which serves to convey both the theme, the mood, and the frustration of the speaker. The poem is about a King trying to make a girl fall in love with him, and I think it's genius. I honestly don't think such a rhythmic, pulsating and frustrated effect could have been gained without rhyme in this particular poem. At the same time, I think that often rhyme creates too clear-cut a rhythm for a piece. It's all a matter of style, and the nature of the poem. That's just my opinion though. I should say, also, that Robert E. Howard wrote 'by ear', taking virtually no time in proof reading any of his work, from poetry to prose. Some writers can do this. It's just a matter of style.

I love both of these snippets because they make ME feel something. They are about things that I care about. As far as the stylistic question goes, though, I don't think such contentions are really relevant. The thing is, great art makes people feel, and their preferences can be kept aside of that which they respect AS great art. I, for instance, do not appreciate Silvia Plath. I don't like her style, I don't resonate with most of her themes. However, that doesn't stop me from recognising her work as brilliant. If it were not brilliant, I wouldn't be in such a small minority with my lack of appreciation for her. I should add that I don't dislike her, I just won't go out of my way to read her work, even though I can sort of see what all the fuss is about.

I think stylistically it doesn't really matter how people convey their meaning. I will admit that I enjoy reading some styles more than others, but that does not conflict with my respect for any well made piece of art. I find most of Picasso's work ugly to look at, but I still have his Don Quixote right above my computer, and I look at it every time I write. What I think is a shame is when people who are highly 'educated' about art (as if you can be educated about art with anything other than appreciating and labouring over a craft), get very opinionated about what TYPE of art is 'good'. I once had an English professor scoff at me for saying that I liked rap. I told him that if he simply disregards a literary art form without exploring its virtues, he has utterly failed in his charge as a professor. That didn't go over well, I can tell you. I exaggerated when I spoke to him because I was angry, but I still stand by my point to an extent.

To me, art is life, the universe, and all meaning to be found. Therefore it is impossible to pigeon hole it stylistically. What is happening in the present age is nothing but a fad that will melt away with time. "Fashion is something so ugly it has to be changed every fifteen minutes," there's another rap quote for you, from Sensor, a British group. I would be very interested to see how many poems that fit the stylistic mold of the present age perfectly will be remembered in fifty years time. Whitman will, Howard will, Poe will. I doubt many poets who conform to the style of their time will be remembered in years to come. None of the ones who are still famous now did.

btw- Thanks for all the replies! This has been a really interesting conversation! http://absolutewrite.com/forums/images/icons/icon7.gif