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 It is simply the MFA programs and their writers that will become obsolete and unpublished.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?