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26 March 2008


I'm not much of a fan. Oh, I like Aussie YA poets like Steven Herrick, alicia sometimes and Adam Ford. Sharon Creech's Love that Dog is one of my all-time-favourite books. I like e.e. cummings and Lewis Carroll and Walt Whitman and that guy who wrote the poem about eating all the plums. I can even recite all of The Lady of Shalott, and know that it's 'clothe the wold and meet the sky', not 'clothe the world and meet the sky'.

But I don't really like poetry. Mostly because of the way it's abused. In fact, the only way I would ever read a book about poetry, is if I found an audiobook about it read by Stephen Fry. Which I did, and so I am.

Fry points out the problem with poetry, using another highly-structured art form as an example. Music, he says, (and I paraphrase because I was on the train and couldn't write it down) may provoke an intense emotional response in the listener. But an intense emotional response is not enough to make music.

You don't come home from a crappy day when your boyfriend got runover and your cat ran off with a supermodel and think - I'm going to write an emo symphony about how nobody ever really loved me. You need to have some sort of learned skill that involves reading music or playing chords on a guitar or knowing what a 3/4 time signature is.

So it's not that all poetry is crap. It's that most poetry is crap. Your average amateur poet thinks that because poetry is constructed out of language, and language is something they have a grasp on - they can do it. Most of the time they are wrong.

This is the same kind of logic that made Heather Mills say that she thinks she'd be good at writing children's books because she has a daughter.

In other news, I'm planning a new career as an entymologist, because there are moths in my pantry so clearly I'd kick arse.


Andrew said...

Hmm... I generally don't like reading poetry in its raw textual form.

BUT I really really enjoy watching a performance of poetry. Having a human voice and body that connects the poetry to its audience, and adds layers of interpretation and emotion through performance, really can bring out the magic in poetry.

(Of course, it still won't rescue crap poetry from being crap poetry, or performance poets from sometimes being incredibly pretentious.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Lili,

Have recently discovered your blog!

Had to comment, because poetry is such a big passion of mine.

Attended a poetry workshop with Dorothy Porter and she said that no young poet should publish their first 'book' of poetry - instead should sit on it a while, mature, pick at it later and decide if it is worth publishing. She argued the field of 'poetry' is in a bad way because people self-publish too early, before they blossom.

It's such a hard thing - I've written poetry since I was 8, almost every day. Possibly thousands of pages worth (all backed up on a memory stick). Sometimes I don't even care if all it amounts to is self expression, unread by others.

Sometimes, I want to improve and improve to be a 'good' poet (whatever that is - presumably the 'blossoming' Dorothy Porter mentioned).

Poetry is taught in schools, and some people pick it up as a form of self-expression (just like some people jump on painting, or writing, or singing). So, people learn the mechanics of writing it but it doesn't transcend the 'words'.

My family and friends always say "i don't get poetry". It is greatest thing in my life!!

Michael Stuchbery said...


Mind if I ask you a few questions about being a YA fiction author? Is there an e-mail address I can use? I'm a high school history teacher trying to put together something that is half gold rush history lesson, half tragic love story, half terrifying ghost story. As you can see, that's a lot to try to bash together.


Mike Stuchbery

lili said...

sure, mike! you can find me at

Anonymous said...

I read your post on poetry
And mostly I agree.
I like the poems that never rhyme;
The ones that do feel twee.

Now Herrick is an odd one
His work reads just like prose
That's been sliced up with hard returns;
I don't think much of those.

And yet to hear him reading
To a thousand, maybe two
Is to hear a poet, pure and real
The kind that makes a person feel
That they could do it too.

But most of us can't.

Adam said...

i usually just say i like good poetry, and i don't like bad poetry. as to which is which...