Uh…poetry?

Posted on December 18, 2015

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It was a serious conversation about immigration and cultural values: Syrian refugees, Mexican indocumentos, the Diaspora. Newcomers to a strange land always had to struggle, to reinvent themselves, to adapt without losing their integrity, their sense of who they were and who they wanted to be. I mentioned having written about immigrants to the American West: miners from Cornwall in England, from Wales, from Montenegro in the Balkans, German beermakers, Chinese railroad workers. Peoples from separate cultures that clashed but also merged, as did a Welsh miner’s widow and a Jewish peddler who established a life together despite hardship and discrimination in a desolate Nevada wilderness. Those with me were fascinated, they wanted to read what I’d published, but when I said it was a section of a poetry volume called A Perfect Throw: “Oh! Poetry…” Not history, not fiction, but… poetry. No longer were they interested. Poetry was, well, poetry. Novels could tell fascinating stories . Nonfiction could relate engrossing true accounts. But…poetry? It was, well, different.

         Unfortunately poetry is different for many who write poetry. One academic trend advocates transforming language (often to something unintelligible). Often members of linkedin, goodreads, google poetry groups debate whether prose poetry is really poetry. Or Christian verse is really poetry. When I mention that the portrayals in an award-winning poetry chapbook of mine are members of a Mexican semi-pro baseball team people think I’m bullshitting them. Or that the first section of poems in the volume Monkey Screams are Vietnam War testimonies. To both poets and non-readers of poetry such poems are three-headed cats—something not to be meddled with because they don’t conform to the murky ambience that shrouds real poetry, as if a definition of real poetry exists.

Certainly it didn’t seem to for the group I mention above. Nor for many readers (and writers for that matter.) This lack of definition creates a nebulousness that in most people’s perception seems esoteric, akin to mysticism or dreams. Better a predictably entertaining romance novel. Or self-help guide to making money. But…poetry?

         How about a soap opera instead?

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Posted in: Poetry, Uncategorized