I hate to sound like a Top Gear-viewing father-of-two on a daytrip to the Tate Modern, but I realised today that I don’t understand contemporary poetry.
I read a lot of it, too, because poetry is important to me and I want to keep up with what other people are doing. So I skim Ambit, The Rialto, Antiphon etc. I admit I also want to find out what is being published, because I always think I should submit more of my own work.
And I don’t get it. Any of it. They’re all just short stories about nothing, written in very short paragraphs. There’s no consistent stanza – everything is formatted like e e cummings with a broken TAB key. There’s definitely no metre. And Jesus Christ, if you think you’ve found a rhyme you must have imagined it.
And I know poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. I know there is such a thing as free verse, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when did everything except non rhyming free verse disappear?
When did every poem become about waking up in New York and checking your iPhone while musing on how disconnected you are from modern life? Or about reconciling your second generation immigrant status with the fact you’re middle class as fuck?
Oh God. I’ve done it. I’ve become the reactionary sophist prick I’ve always feared.
I think the last Anglophone poet I could read and understand consistently was Auden. Fucking hell, that’s such a twatty thing to say, but it’s true. I could understand him because he was testing and trying to see where his skills and his experiences fit into the great tradition of verse extending back to Homer. He thought of his predecessors as colleagues. He wanted to have something to say to them.
Now, it’s like every poem is about how do I fit into the contemporary. How do I find my agency in a sea of Starbucks and Uber apps and Apple products? (The DeLilloification of verse?) Or, can I find the meaning of life in a quaint relationship I had with a mildly eccentric friend?
There’s probably an element of jealousy here. I feel like saying, I want to write about the universe, gods and demons, love and death, darkness and art, time’s impermanence. I stress over every bloody word I put down on paper. And you’re getting paid for prosing about drinking tea in a cafe in the afternoon.
I’m going to stop there before I crystallise into an English professor at a dusty 19th century boarding school, the unseen villain of Dead Poets Society.