Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Letter to a Young Poet

Dear M – ,

As I have explained before, I usually do not respond to comments. But, your concerns seemed heartfelt and you addressed one of the more misunderstood points of my argument – teenage poetry. I merely said that MOST of it is bad. I’ve learned, or rather, I am learning in my advancing years to shy away from absolutes. However, I do allow for the possibility that some teenagers can write good poetry – not often – but it does happen. After all we do have Rimbaud, if you like that sort of thing.

As for the encouragement, I am of two minds. Yes, I think poetry should be taught, the mechanics as well as its interpretation and criticism. Familiarity of its forms and language to my way of thinking is a mark of an educated person. We most certainly need more intelligent and appreciative poetry readers and perhaps a few less poets.

The thing I find most objectionable is the uninformed boosting of marginal or non-existent talent. It may seem harsh or downright Darwinian to permit these budding young poets to languish in obscurity, but it is really for the best. So, should we give them, as you described, "the tiniest" bits of helpful encouragement? I think not. Admittedly, it is hard to watch all those baby sea turtles be gobbled up by gulls and hungry crabs. But, M – , the herd is very large and needs to be culled.

Writing of any kind is hard, and of questionable social value. Wouldn’t it be better for most of these young people to put away their notebooks filled with lines such as "I hate myself, my blood will stain the tiled floors," and direct their energies to becoming accountants, ironworkers, or nurses? Experience has taught me that they would be happier; and if not happier, certainly healthier (and very probably, wealthier!).

In my arrogant youth, I once lamented to my father (a very pragmatic workingman) the injustice of the universe concerning my cousin’s recent acquisition of a journeyman plumber's card. My argument (petulant whine would be closer to the mark) bewailed the fact that my cousin made four times as much as I did and I had a university degree! His response was terse, one might even say poetic:

“I’m sure as hell not calling you if my friggin’ pipes break.”

The moral, I suppose, is that when you are standing up to your ankles in water, the imagery of Yeats and the mysticism of Blake provide cold comfort. Or does it? That, I suppose, is the question you must ask yourself each and every day.


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