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19 Apr 2006

A Rant! On Bad Poetry.

Written by sally @ 11:23 am — Section: Uncategorized

I was going to be mean and post a couple of poems from the not-intentionally-funny website Poet’s Corner, but instead I thought I’d just link to it and let you laugh heartily on your own.

But first: I think it’s great that people want to express themselves through poetry. I have written my fair share of horrifyingly awful poems, but I didn’t post them in public forums for people to laugh at. Especially ones about love. And how bad smoking is. Because yes, when I was 16 I wrote a terrible poem about how sad I was that I found a package of Benson and Hedges cigarettes in my friend Jason’s car. Which is incredibly funny for many reasons now.

Because of my English-degree background, I do a lot of proofing and editing around my workplace, which I love because my life’s true mission is finding other people’s errors. But what I hate, what I absolutely loathe, is when people give me their poems to read.

About a year ago I had to politely read four or five cancer poems written by a coworker. Worst part: then I had to come up with something to say about them. I decided that he didn’t really want me to say anything but “these are great,” so that’s what I went for. I worked in a luggage store in college, and my manager gave me some of her poems. One of them had this line, which was unfortunately burned into my brain:

a woman’s soft love-cries

Bad. Very bad.

Sometimes my students would write creepy love poems and show them to me, but at least I was their teacher and they expected some form of criticism from me. I actually used to make them write a poem (and include a certain number of metaphors, similes, symbols, examples of imagery, etc), and then they had to write a paper explicating their own poems. The poems didn’t have to be good — they just had to include all the stuff on the list so that they could write a paper about it later. This was terribly entertaining for me, I have to say. One of my favorites was about the adventures of a sock. (Personification: check.)

At the same time I snicker at what I call “bad” poems, I am also sort of intrigued by the poets: they obviously have no self-censure. I get a lot of emails from self-published poets and their chutzpah never ceases to amaze me. Their emails generally go like this:

I have been writing poems ever since I was a child. My family and friends always ask me to write poems for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. Now, I have published a volume that you too can enjoy. Here is a sample of my work:

The very last time
you told me goodbye,
The sun stopped shining,
And the rainbows died,
Why can’t you stay,
one more day,
why did God,
take you away?

I don’t know if I can accurately put into words the dual sensation of pity and jealousy that I feel when I get these kinds of messages. Pity: your poems suck. Jealousy: you have unwavering confidence in yourself.

This ends my non-cohesive rant. Or wait: is this a screed?

6 Responses to “A Rant! On Bad Poetry.”

  1. Christy said:


    What does it take to kill a rainbow? A nuclear attack, or just, you know, light … pointed in the right direction?

    I assume you have seen this site already, but just in case: http://reallybadpoetry.livejournal.com/

  2. sally said:

    I hadn’t seen that site, but I am no longer the meanest person alive. That guy is.

    Thanks!

  3. gorjus said:

    I have no idea how people ever get the guts up to just throw stuff out there for people to read. I think it took me until I was at least 18, and I’m not sure why the hell I thought it was okay then. I’m not sure why I think it’s okay now, either, but at 31, I’m mostly bulletproof.

    I demand to see the Benson + Hedges poem, please. When are we going to have our Jaxxon Cringe?

  4. sally said:

    The poem MIGHT imply that cigarettes are a gateway drug. And I MIGHT reference the Beatles in it as well.

  5. Christy said:

    I took a poetry writing class in college and was too embarassed to go pick up my “final portfolio” after the semester ended because it was so bad. This is really great because my dad is an English professor, so I see my former teacher sometimes and he always mentions it. He is nice about it, but I know it is total crap and I wouldn’t want anyone to find it in my house if I were to die suddenly.

  6. Professor Fury said:

    Ha! You people are lame. I’m nothing like you. I know, for instance, that I never would have written a long, Whitman-inspired poem in the blank pages in the front of my Six American Poets book and then covertly tried to get my friends’ opinions on it at the truck stop by reading it aloud and pretending it was from the Whitman section. People who do things like that are big losers.