Recently the question "What makes good poetry?" appeared from a friend in my in-box. And since it is something I think about pretty regularly, I thought perhaps I would share some thoughts here.
First, here is a graphic I created to share with students when I teach poetry workshops:
And here is my quick email response to my friend:
In general I would say I respond to something that moves me, and sometimes that's not particularly polished, but raw. The one element that I find myself really requiring in a poem is the element of surprise. This can be a surprising image, or a fresh metaphor, or even unexpected subject matter. Sometimes even language itself can be the surprise! When I look over my own work, I always evaluate it from that vantage point first. Does it contain a surprise?
For the past few weeks I've been listening to an audiobook ROMANTIC OUTLAWS: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon. Fascinating women, fascinating book! And lo, I stumbled upon a section that sent me back to the library for the print version so I could accurately record it. Here's what Mary Wollstonecraft had to say on the topic:
"...in 1797, she [Mary Wollstonecraft] defended her aesthetic choices, in an essay she called "On Taste." A good piece of writing should be spontaneous and honest, she said. The mind and heart should appear on the page. Writers should not try to seduce their readers with a "mist of words." The point of a good book was to provoke both ideas and emotions in the reader, not to engage in a battle of wits with a straw opponent."
And THAT reminds me of son Eric's newly-released album about which he says, "My only hope is that at least one of these raps will make you rethink something in your life. "
Apparently Eric's work has succeeded, because he's had some heartfelt reactions to his songs -- songs that speak to our current social media culture, sex, drugs, relationships, and everything you'd expect from a 17-year-old, and more.
Finally, here are a few words from Eric in response to some controversy. They also speak to me about "what makes good poetry.": Controversy. This is the struggle of an artist. It connects me to Ben Haggerty and Kendrick Lamar, and it allows me, if not the world, to grow and better understand the issues I speak for. Truth was made to start conversations, and I believe the talk it starts up is its biggest impact on the world, whether it's positive or negative... knowing or defensive... There may not be a difference after all. The truth is simple, but the world is complex. I hope people see that when they hear the album's contrasting muscles pumping and connecting, sometimes with success, sometimes without. It is meant to be the start of something, not the end. There is no way to capture the whole story in one album, and I believe this part of the story leads to many more. I intended the album not to show perfection, but to exemplify the beauty of a young man struggling to find the truth in his world... a life concerned with making the world a better place, not necessarily knowing how, but trying all the same. I look around and I see so much wrong that no one talks about, and I know that if I don't stand up, no one will. So I decided to be that guy. I sacrificed my comfort for this. I dedicated myself to the album like I do with everything else in my life, and I made all my crazy dreams about bravery and revenge and redemption come true. I did everything I wanted to do, and I still love my life. Can you say the same?
Poetry Friday friends: what do YOU think makes good poetry?