Writing for Other Writers

In the October issue of Writer’s Digest, there is an article on an MFA program that teaches genre fiction as well as literary fiction. It is written by a professor of the program, and in it he makes a point that I think is very true; he says that somewhere in the birth of the MFA program, poets stopped writing for the public and started writing only for other poets.

Considering the average person (including myself) doesn’t read poetry, I think this point is very astute. Poetry was originally the main form of literature because its rhythm and rhymes allowed storytellers to recite it to the illiterate population. Now poetry looks for ways to break those conventions to create deeper meanings. The problem is that the intricacies of the rules are known only to a few – those who study poetry – leaving the poem obtuse for any layman.

The point of the article was that the professor feared MFA programs and creative writing academia in general is going to follow the same path for fiction. As I said in this post, I definitely agree that genre fiction is disdained in the academic world. However, I am not concerned that this means there will be an end to fiction. Poetry suffered a disappearance from public bookshelves; fiction is what fills those shelves. It is simply the MFA programs and their writers that will become obsolete and unpublished.

I started a poetry course this quarter as someone who finds poetry unnecessarily abstract and not interesting enough to hold my attention. As I learn the rules, I enjoy reading poetry for analysis; I like to dissect the ways the poet has broken rules to underscore meaning and to revel in the specific diction chosen to best express the poet’s meaning. However, the only poems I enjoy reading for reading’s sake are those that have a rhyme and rhythm that make it fun to say. Perhaps if poets return to this tradition, their work will return to commercial shelves.

If you read poetry, what is it that you enjoy about it?

11 thoughts on “Writing for Other Writers

  1. I am one who loves poetry for the strength that it gives words and ideas through its economy in word use and imagery. I also feel it is most effective and useful if it has a rhythm and/or rhyme. For me, the words are pleasureful with rhythm and/or rhythm and walk around with me all day like a song in my head.

  2. Over the past year I have really wanted to begin reading poetry. I want to read more and accustom myself to it. But part of the problem is that I’m not interested in dissecting it like I do in class – at least not yet – and that has slightly deterred me from every picking up some poetry. I’m afraid I won’t understand it because the class that focuses on the meaning of poetry makes me feel ridiculous and unintelligent.

    Anyway, that was just the thoughts you evoked from me. I completely agree with what you said – I enjoy rhyming poetry more because it’s more fun to read. Good post!

    • One of my struggles is knowing what to do with poetry when I’ve read it. Some poems that I enjoy leave me with a certain feeling, but a lot of them just make me confused about what happened and what I’m supposed to understand from them. When I read for fun, I want to be able to understand what I just read and why I just read it without needing to have a discussion about it. I relate to your struggle in finding poetry to read without having to dissect it!

  3. Katie, Not sure if you can get via the web English radio stations. On our BBC Radio 4 we have the worlds longest running poetry request programme.”Poetry Please” Listeners write in and request their favourite poems. They have guest readers (the poets themselves, listeners, actors etc) reading. They have themed weeks ie Scottish week., women poets whatever. Poetry is alive and kicking in England and if you listen to the programme people are still buying, reading and writing poetry.

  4. I like some poetry. I write some poetry. But, really, it HAS to make sense, otherwise
    it’s a waste of paper and my time.
    And if no one but I get something from the poem, say even the poem I write,
    then shouldn’t that only be for my journal where NO ONE sees it?

    • I was discussing this with a friend of mine, and he brought up the point that it really boils down to: why are you writing? If your goal is to confuse readers, then confuse away! But if you want them to get what you are trying to say, or at least come away with something, there have to be a few clues for us to know what we’re reading. I like your point that sometimes we have to choose to write just for ourselves.

  5. I like your analysis. I enjoy the old fashioned poetry, perhaps. Like The Raven by Poe. Most Poetry goes over my head, unfortunately, but then again, I’m an engineer by training!

  6. I once heard that you must be patient to read and get poetry-you can’t read it in a rush. Once I tried that, I did feel I got more out of it. Imagine me sitting by a stream, the gurgle of the water in the background, birdsong and wind through the trees lay down a background to the word orchestra that’s about to begin playing in my mind. Hmmm. Yeah.

    My favorites were always onces that called up vivid images, and the words really worked together to create a rhythm. I love Edgar Allan Poe for this, both in his poetry and prose. Maya Angelou and Robert Frost are two more who have been able to make me feel something. I do intend to read more of it in hopes that it will help me appreciate what I read more, and that it will trickle into my own work at some point, but it’s slow going where that’s concerned.

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