Just as all poets are individuals, so too are all poems individuals and should be judged on their own merits. Just because a certain poet has written 500 great poems doesn’t mean that she won’t pen the occasional bad one. Just because a bad poet has written and published over 1,000 lousy excuses for poetry doesn’t mean that he can’t finally produce a masterpiece. Every poem is an individual and must be judged on its own merits.
Millennial Poetics Review
Let’s review the 9 principles of Millennial Poetics one more time:
- 1. Craft is of utmost importance
2. There is no room for prejudice
3. Form is just another element of craft
4. Creativity and craft go hand in hand
5. No subject is taboo
6. There is no such thing as language that is too archaic
7. All poems are individuals
8. There is no acceptable method to writing poetry
9. All convention should be shunned
Today, we’re discussing the individuality of poems. If you haven’t read the earlier posts in this series then I encourage you to back up and read them all and return here when you are done.
All Poems Are Individuals
There is no sense in treating a body of work as a whole unless you are willing to look at each individual poem in the group to see how it fits in with the whole. This is true whether we are talking about a chapbook, a set of poems within a specific time period within a single poet’s life, an entire collection of poems from a poet’s life, a school or movement, or a set of poems surrounding a specific theme. There is value in analyzing poetry as a group and how that group is structured could depend on any number of variables, but no matter how the grouping is accomplished, every poem within the group is still an individual and should be analyzed on its own merits.
This may seem like it should go without saying and, for the most part, it does. But there is a tendency in poetics to see the whole and forget the singular. Poetic analysis can center around a single poet and so analysts discuss the poet’s contribution to literature, but then fail to discuss each individual poem. At the bottom of every group of poems is the whole set of individual poems within the group. Without the individual poems, there is no group.
This speaks to the liberty of poetics. The freedom of poetry analysts to judge poems on their own merits as individuals as opposed to complete bodies or groups of poems. Instead of judging the Beats as good or bad, or “homosexual misogynists”, we should judge each individual poet on his own then each poem by each poet on its own before arriving at a general conclusion regarding the entire school of Beats. There is a long range and variety of personalities to discuss with regard to that movement and many poets still living consider themselves Beats, or at least influenced by the Beats.
This principle is true and applies to all schools and movements and groups of poets. There are no exceptions. Instead of discussing the Nuyorican poets, why not discuss individual poets within the Nuyorican movement and read each poem by those poets as a single unit? The movement itself certainly has an identity, but that identity is wrapped up in the aggregation of the individual poets who identify with the group. Those poets in turn have individual poems that serve to define, or defy, or add to the aggregate definition of the group itself. It is possible for a poet to break with his or her poetic tradition and identify singularly with another group at a different point in his life, or with no group at all. This has been the case with Amiri Baraka, former poet laureate of New Jersey.
Why Is This Important?
Why should we concern ourselves with whether individual poems, or poets, are a unique identity unto themselves? I believe this is important because it speaks to the nature of poetics as well as the nature of the human condition. Poetry is an individual exercise, although some poets have joined together for collaborative projects. Even when poets collaborate, poetry is still handled at the individual level. There may be dialog, interaction, to be sure; but the internal reaction to what a poet writes and reads is an individual experience. That is true of the audience as well.
Because life is experienced as individuals living within community, and poetry is intrinsically about life, it is necessary to discuss poetry in the way in which it is experienced: As individuals within community. Community is not necessarily the closed community of poets. It is all of humanity. It is one’s identity group, one’s race, one’s local community, one’s nation or state, and one’s poetic school or movement. Community is all of those things, individually and collectively. The test for any poet is to write a poem that reflects the frame of reference with which he identifies. Does he do that well or does he fail? All poetics is centered around that question, but the question applies differently to each individual poem as it pertains to what it sets out to be as a poem.
A group of poems, and consequently a group of poets, cannot succeed in that endeavor. This can only be accomplished on a poem-by-poem basis. T.S. Eliot may have captured the zeitgeist of his era in “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Wasteland,” but did he do so in “Four Quartets”? The same poet who succeeds today can fail tomorrow. Just as a man in business may build a successful enterprise in one decade and fail to do so in another, so too can poets succeed in producing poems that attract an audience one day and fail in the same endeavor in another. This is the reason why the individuality of poems is a necessary component in Millennial Poetics. It could be said to be a central tenet. All poems must be analyzed on their own merits. Accept nothing less.
“Writing Poetry Is A Craft, There Is No Acceptable Method.”
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