I don’t have the affinity for poetry I have for fiction, but I do appreciate listening to poets read their work. When part of the audience at a poetry performance, I’ve often been so inspired I’ve wondered if I too might like to have a go. But I’ve also had my ears assaulted and had my time stolen by “poets” who should have stayed at home. Parodied in Karen McLeod’s character Barbara Brownskirt, you too might have come across the type.
Let me reiterate that I’m not against sharing our creative output even in its raw form, either seeking feedback to improve it or simply for fun. But in doing so it behoves us to recognise the difference between raw and ready, and that proper poetry takes skill and work.
I was pleased to have this lesson reiterated for me lately, when I submitted a piece of “poetry” for publication for the first time. One August morning, perhaps avoiding confronting the problems with my WIP, I had a bright idea and, having had fun with iambic pentameters for a flash fiction challenge the end of last year, I thought I’d see if I could turn it into a sonnet. Then, when I realised it fitted the theme of the submissions call from an e-zine to which I was submitting some flash fiction, I decided to work a little more on the poem and send it in too.
You probably won’t be surprised to know that the poetry editor declined my sonnet (and the fiction editor accepted my three pieces of flash). In all honesty, I was more relieved than disappointed: if it were so easy to write publishable poetry, why should I sweat away at fiction? As I won’t be sending it elsewhere, I thought I’d share it here, both for the enjoyment of readers inclined to look favourably on my output (it’s fun, it’s not rubbish) and (because the editor was kind enough to give me feedback which I’ve summarised further down) confirmation of why I’m not a proper poet for those able to view it more critically.
So here’s my example of improper poetry:
The Last Days of America
His mind as small as ours, his words as rough,
He promised he’d restore our country’s pride.
Turn back the clock to when the rules were tough,
When women, Blacks and gays knew they should hide.
From ivory towers, the experts mocked his tweets,
And yet his bluster made us cheer him more.
Our aspirations only he could meet;
We trusted brawn, not brains or phoney law.
Though soiled with sweat from other people’s toil,
We did not care if he had dirty hands.
He’d shelter us from bogeymen, and spoil
The foreign ways of those in godless lands.
How could we know his missiles would inflame
Those bigger monsters leaders need to tame?
And here’s why it’s not good enough to appear anywhere other than this blog:
- it doesn’t challenge or stretch the reader (many would agree with the sentiment, but it doesn’t add anything original)
- it’s too constrained by the structure (the rhymes are okay but perhaps I’ve prioritised form over content)