not to piss anyone off

by jhon baker

Yesterday I was reading and interview with a so-called poet who wrote this tremendously bad poem (which I would offer a link but do not want to as I have no reason to hurt this mans feelings), I don’t know why I was interested in reading the interview after reading the poem but I was. Or maybe I read the poem only after reading a statement that knocked me cold.
The statement was (by memory) – “I am not acquainted with styles or technical jargons [sic] known to trained poets and therefore I write unrestrictedly [sic].” This is probably extremely close to what was said or exactly what was said.

I was struck cold by the statement that this so-called poet believes that he writes without restriction. Absurd. the two statements that make up the quotation do not follow. While I am not sure that I write “unrestrictedly” I am also not sure I would want to. My training as a poet is lack and as where I have studied several forms intimately, I am still studying fervently.
I wanted to reach out to him or comment, neither of which I did, and inform him that he is most certifiably restricted. In not knowing how to write in other styles, forms or what have you means simply that you are restricted to a single form – free form, that’s it. complete restriction – an inability to create outside this single parameter.

My greatest strength in writing is that I wrap myself in language and wear it as a skin. I am forever obsessed with it, and what can be done with it. My second strength is my understanding of the line and how it works and how it doesn’t work.
This is all from formal training and training as an obsessive autodidact.
To be without restraint is to know intimately and abandon it at will as it suits the purpose and created form or lack of form (which is still a form mind you.)

This person goes on to say that he doesn’t read poetry – only poetry by his fellow bloggers. I have to add that this is a further mistake.  It is a common thought that writers should spend more time reading than writing – I don’t know that I fully agree with that but certainly most of us are not so prolific that we cannot read a lot of what is offered – both academic and not. I tend toward the less academic but have a healthy regard for what has come before. Even Picasso studied the masters first and continued his regard and admiration of others works throughout his life.
I would think that not knowing what has come before – meaning that not only was there not a decent perusal of the subject but a complete and willing ignorance – would place you in the aspect of recreating the art from near scratch – this may seem intriguing and almost preferable when trying to create a new style or completely eschewing style altogether, but what you are doing is futile. One mind does not create a history, one mind does not invent wholly from nothing. Without a decent regard to style (meaning here writing in general, as in style manuals like strunk and white), and a decent regard for language (which how do we know language but by living in it and surrounding ourselves with it) what you end up creating is a jumble of words lined neatly along the left of a page (or center, or left). This is not poetry. Poetry is not anything and everything by choice in the matter. What is created is simply what has already been created, commented on and moved beyond.

I really don’t mean to offend anyone and am reasonably sure that the so-called poet in question doesn’t read this blog and has not heard of me at all (why would he?) – I do know that the connection I have to this person does occasionally read my blog and I do not want to offend her or put her in a position to feel like defending herself. I don’t honestly know that she would be up to the task anyway of defending this particular so-called poet. She requires no defense as she is a good person out in the world trying to do good things – I regard her highly and understand that she is only giving equal time and space to everyone who seeks it, my opinion of her selection of this particular person is not meant to reflect on her character, and should not be taken that way.

I also do not mean that he shouldn’t write – everyone should give it a try, much like waiting tables or receiving military type training, I mean to say that his regard for himself is self-centered in the extreme and he would benefit from some humility in his regard to his creations and seek to learn more about what he is trying to do. Seek to learn anything!

You cannot learn to write poetry from reading prose, you cannot learn to write poetry from doing nothing. The argument would then be that the masters would teach you to do nothing to perfect your writing – but therein lies my argument. You must first learn to do something correctly to later forget that you know it. There is a difference between someone who has learned deeply and proceeded to put it away in his/her mind than someone who has never learned at all.

Without knowing the restrictions (constraints) how can one possibly hope to avoid them?

That persons statement gives me energy to go back and get my MBA.

I reserve the right to change my mind.

17 Comments to “not to piss anyone off”

  1. Well said Jhon. I usually find that people who don't read contemporary poetry (there are many)in order to write “unresticted” end up writing the same “original” poem I grew tired of reading a long time ago. Why not practice as a carpenter without being aware of what a hammer is? same thing imo. I don't doubt that some people believe their case for not reading is valid but it makes no sense to me.

  2. I heartily agree! A broad reading of poetry and prose gives you depth and sparks new connections. I also like to dip into folksongs and stories as well as translations to 'hear' languages not necessarily my own. How can you choose not to write a sonnet if you've never read one in the first place? Also, learn to accept and seek out criticism. If you are sharing your work with the world, be prepared for someone to comment upon it, be it positive or negative.

  3. Plunk.. that was my pen hitting the trash can..Ha!
    Seriously, I am the first to admit that I do not write poetry. Hell, only wrote my first piece of whatever a year or so ago. Free verse is all I know. I am in a good poetry group on FB and am trying to learn more styles, but as of 4:29pm ET, 1/5/2011, free verse is all my meager mind can handle.
    I agree with most said here Jhon. WE must branch, reach, read, ask, study..

    I think thi is an exceptional write on a common issue among writers. I have an eye tic over poets who deem themselves above critique. No one has ever written their best one..

  4. I'm just happy I get some free lessons, here and there, from you. 😉
    And I wholly agree with you, if you aren't constantly reading, you're not writing…

  5. hmmmm a condescending critical commentary better known as elitist bull! Nice read though with some decent points but it is the same old age questions isn't it? What is poetry? What makes one a poet? Should new poets define their art according to the famous dead classics? Most academes would agree with you but then again they are mostly critics. True innovators just go and do the darn thing…There are more than 1000 styles of poetry, if I were to follow your train of thought, that would mean any true poet worth their salt should be aware of each and be able to dabble in each style? What is the purpose of poetry again? What is the purpose of art but I digress… If poetry is a craft to some it isn't to many…but an expressive art form like so many.

    I and most “common” writers do not spend our time reading a poem and ascertain how many metaphors, rhymes, pentameters, structure or what not of a piece…really does anyone? Art is an expression. Maybe that poet did not use the word appropriately in that he could have specified that he uses free form alone, but you did get the gist of what he was saying did you not?

    Do you truly believe that we have to own all the styles, particularly those of the classics to then be able to use our own style? Really!!! It is like saying we do lack freedom in the US if we are unknowing of the laws of the land!!!!

    Nice read…I hope the MBA does make you a more learned poet, if that is the way you wish to go.

    Answer me this, who was the father of the greatest poet who ever lived? I just hope you understand my point as well…

    ….no offense taken btw, hope neither do you


  6. Thank you all for your comments thus far – Lynne, you are a good writer and now that you have been writing for awhile it may be time to stretch your legs a bit and tinker with new things. Kevin, I am always glad to help you and enjoy our conversations on the topic, Brent and Heather – I wasn't sure that anyone would agree with me at all within this blogosphere and am happy to find like minds.
    Lynnaima, I am drafting my response and may make it a post of it's own, an open rebuttal; however, I am not sure it deserves it as you obviously took what I was saying out of context in many places and didn't give my commentary the proper read that it would have needed for a reaction such as yours.

  7. Reading and embracing poetry – does not mean to break a poem down into metaphors, analyzing the structure, etc. I know that J does not do this. He constantly reads and absorbs – as one should do – and takes inspiration from those that are truly gifted poets, writers, artists. I think to be gifted in life you must be constantly searching out all that is beautiful in this world – it helps one to grow out of his or her own constraints – and enhances one's own creativity.

    How does living inside a box inspire?

  8. This person wasn't worth your while. A poet who doesn't read poetry? Only that of fellow bloggers? Anyone can blog and put up horrendous “centered” poems. Oh my. This would be like a novelist who doesn't read novels or a gardener who doesn't eat vegetables or a musician who does not listen to music and on and on. Some things are neither logical or possible.

  9. Every time I read a poem, I embrace it, take it in, let it resonate, and then come back to it later. Copies of E. Poe, and Poetry for the Atomic Age (as well as 'Hands on the Hips') are right within my grasp at this very moment. I read these works over and over.
    The same holds true to my music. When I listen to a song, I'm listening for multiple things, but I know what I'm listening to, because I studied.

    I spent a day with some 'musicians' who had NO background in music. Self taught, and unknowing, we had no way to communicate what they where playing. I literally had to have them play each song once through so I could figure out what they where doing. The worst thing about them, was that they wanted me to play Diminished scales over major chordal patterns. (This is like asking an oil painter to touch up his last work with water colors).

    Simply put, if you don't study, you don't learn. And if you're not appreciating the amount of time people put into studying their craft, then you're not honoring the craft…

  10. well..i'm with lynnaima on this one.

    and i vehemently disagree with KMShear in that 'if you don't study, you don't learn'. unequivocally, this is utter bullshit…contemptible snobbery, at the very least and at it's worst, an insult to creative spirit. the idea that a person who hasn't *studied* music, can't be musician is beyond ridiculous.

    i have had the *benefit* of formal education…and it did nothing but suck the joy out of poetry/literature for me for many years. i made a conscious decision to return to it- to experience it purely on a cellular level — i will leave the intellectual posturing for other people. y'all are welcome to your circle-jerk of academia.

    if dissecting rhyme and meter turns your crank, knock yourself out. i can appreciate and respect those people who wish to pursue their chosen art-form to it's highest levels.

    that said, i find it reprehensible to criticize the person/people who chose/choose *not* to do that…and who simply appreciate what art and the creation of art does for the soul. their work and efforts are no less valuable than the person who sweats over every syllable or paint-stroke.

    maybe Blogger needs a more high-brow platform for those who find amateurish dabblings to be distasteful.

    (my sincerest apologies for any offense given with my comment — it is not my intent or desire to fan the flame of controversy…i just happen to have rather strong feelings on the subject. :))

  11. Nice debate…
    John's comments have pushed me to re-read a book that I read a long time ago that maybe a few here should consider delving into. As lovers of words I would hope we are, this will be quite beneficial: “Letters To a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

    I leave you all with this quote:
    “Read as little as possible of literary criticism. Such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are clever word-games, in which one view wins , and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them. Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentation, discussions, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights.”

    A review of this book will be conducive to more positive outcomes which I am sure was possibly the intent of this article…maybe!


  12. I am drafting an open rebuttal to Mel though I do not believe it will get a fair read from my detractors. I base this opinion on not getting a fair read from them to begin with.

  13. L., Wonderful book – I also recommend it highly. It's point was to further the art and challenge. I love the quote you have selected as well. However, the book says nothing against my argument/comment but supports it – I am informed greatly by this poets work and writings, after all, how does an autodidact learn? by reading and trial – by living without intentionally confining yourself.
    Here is another good quote from the book – “To be an artist means not to compute or count; it means to ripen as the tree”

  14. Give an individual, any individual, an instrument of your choice, and ask them to create music. Mind you, that if they have any background in the instrument, then they have dedicated some time to study.
    When we create works of poetry, art, or music, we ARE studying. We're studying how we crafted the piece, what works in the piece, what didn't work, how the piece reflects ourselves, etc.
    Here's another challenge. Find a person with no knowledge of poetry, and ask them to write a poem; a person who's never taken a step into the creation of art, and produce art. It can't be done…
    This is not a position of bullshit, or snobbery, it's simply a fact. We create from what we know… Create me something completely new and unknown, and I'll back down from my argument, but I'm willing to place a very large wager that you can't create something completely new to the world; something wholly undiscovered.
    When an artist creates, they utilize tools, and these tools are learned through study. My education in music enriched my compositions, and gave me new tools to use. I still continue to learn about music, and attempt to put my essence into every piece I work on.
    Every musician has dedicated time to music; to understand it at some level, and to attempt to create it. That's how we decide we want to create, through learning and a desire to emulate, to communicate, in a medium other than speech.
    i apologize that I had struck such a point in you with my writings, especially if it was because I was too brief or unclear, but we don't create anything if we have no idea how to do it.

    And, just to clarify, I have been working on my art work and poetry, but I wouldn't dare consider myself an artist or a poet. Those are titles. And I feel that one needs to earn those titles. A person doesn't pick up a wrench and become a master mechanic, nor does a person run out and purchase a drafting table and become an engineer.
    But, I digress, this is not the topic of debate, and a completely different tangent…

  15. In the Dec. issue of The Sun….
    The Dog-Eared Page
    excerpted from “Letters To A Young Poet”
    by Rainer Maria Rilke

  16. Interesting debate, and some valuable points made, but I can see it's a sensitive topic.

    Jhon, I agree with your point, this:

    To be without restraint is to know intimately and abandon it at will as it suits the purpose and created form, or lack of form (which is still a form mind you.)

    To learn about form is to learn the skill of the craft. Without mastering the craft, you are restricted to your own ramblings, which is inclined to be a kind of colloquialism. In itself, this can make for quite charming art/poetry/music/whatever, but without looking to learn from other Masters of the Craft, you will remain restricted to this colloquial expression of your 'Art'. You will never learn the skills you need to become a Master.

    I believe that being a Master means understanding the rules, the Form of your Craft, and then being able to overturn them and manipulate them at will. Like Shakespeare (isn't he the greatest poet of all time? in my books, yes).

    I think the crucial point here is that it doesn't matter where or how you choose to learn your craft. And Academia has done a lot to interfere with many Artists/Poets/Writers attempts to practice and perfect their craft.

    The Ivory Towers of Academia is not the natural place to go to learn to become a Master of your Craft. The Ivory Towers really teach you how to become a Critic of the Craft. This is only one way to learn more about your Art, but there is no substitute for a good apprenticeship and the daily grind of getting on and doing the thing.

    Maybe the argument that ensued here is mostly about what it means to 'study' your art, your craft. Can any of us who are serious about our art claim that we make no 'study' of the work of other artists/writers/painters/poets/bloggers… whether that be formal, academic, or a more personal approach? I doubt it.

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