Mentioning no names…

Spoiler alert: I don’t often rant…

Assuming modern poets wish their verse to be read – and by real, normal, human readers – it would be useful if some of them actually made such a thing possible…

There seems to be a trend in some current poetry that –

  1. eschews punctuation;
  2. avoids capitalisation;
  3. inserts bizarre (but presumably trendy) spaces in the middle of individual lines;
  4. co-opts exaggerated line breaks – even to the extreme of perhaps having just two lines on a page (i.e. a thirty line poem could be split over many pages).

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with #1 – providing either the layout of the words on the page or the sequence of the words themselves makes it clear where the breaks and pauses are i.e. how to read it.

I also have no problem with #2, with the same proviso as above. #1 and #2 can be combined effectively to still allow the work to be read. I’ve certainly used both together.

#3 is OK at a pinch, if the spaces are being used in lieu of punctuation – e.g. a gap of three ‘spaces’ for a comma, five spaces for a full-stop; something like that – rather than for no good reason other than it looks vaguely interesting and ‘deep’.

#4 I really struggle with, unable to shake the impression that writers who adopt this approach have found it to be the only way of making a twenty page book into a larger sixty page – and therefore saleable – book. Of making a mediocre poem seem better. After all, it’s easier doing this than writing more poetry! And personally I don’t buy the notion that #4 is just an extension of #3.

But all four ‘techniques’ together? Give me a break! And give the poor reader a break too, as often we’ve no idea how we should read the thing, where we should pause, in the end even what the words when pulled together actually mean. Often we’re presented with nothing more than a random set of images splayed across a raft of pages and white space. By the end of it we don’t know what’s going on or what the ‘message’ is, mainly because we’re spending all our energy trying to decide if we should pause after word ‘X’, or run on to word ‘Y’, or even if the line really continues onto the next page…

On reaching this stage frankly I don’t care – which means, ultimately, that the poem/poet has failed because presumably they’re trying to convey something interesting and/or worthwhile.

But maybe that’s the whole point, I don’t know. But it just strikes me as cheap, vacuous and lazy writing.

And the most bizarre thing? This stuff wins prizes! Is lauded. Other than making the shallow assumption that judges like choosing this stuff because it might mean they are seen as ‘hip’ and ‘happening’ too, it would be nice if someone could explain why such work is ‘good’ and relevant because right now it beats me…

Rant over.

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