Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The glorious quest to become America's worst poet...

There is nothing harder to write than good poetry. It’s not
the same as prose, which is more like putting together a
chair or a table or, at the most rarified levels, an really
nice china cabinet. The noun goes here, the verb goes
there and then–when it’s all finished–you have some-
thing that’s at least functional, if not necessarily beautiful.
Writing poetry is far more perilous. If I may be permitted
a cliche: think of it as a high-wire act. Every action, every
breath, every little muscle twitch has to be absolutely con-
trolled and perfect, or else the poet will fall to their death
wearing a silly spangled leotard. Certain perverts, like me,
enjoy watching this happen just as much, if not more than,
the sight of a successful routine. There are times, after all,
when folly is far more entertaining than actual accomplish-

Having said that, I should probably acknowledge that I’m
not entirely innocent of bad poetry. There were moments–
not too rare, even–in my overwrought, brooding youth when
I did not resist the temptation to express my wounded,
misunderstood soul in verse. Fortunately, these were all
destroyed as soon as I came to my senses. I assure you,
however, that they were spectacular. As counterintuitive
as it may seem, one cannot come up with piercing, pithy
couplets when their only inspirations are caffeine, romantic
frustration, and the lyrical genius of Morrissey. I certainly
couldn’t do it, though–good Lord–did I ever try.

At this stage of my life, I have given up hope of ever being
even a half-assed poet. I don’t want to work at the craft for
decades just so that I can be comfortably mediocre. Instead,
it seems to me a far wiser course to move in the other direction–
towards greater and greater awfulness. If I cannot be subtly
and genuinely good, I’d much rather be atrocious than stuck
at some sad place in the middle of the aesthetic spectrum.

That is why, when I feel the itch to be poetic nowadays, I try
to make it as terrible as possible. Among connoisseurs of the
bad, deliberate failures can never be as worthwhile as the
spontaneous kind–true–but it’s also a lot less embarrassing.
You people will never ever ever get to read “On the Wings of
Misery”, my eleventh grade opus that grapples with the pass-
age of time, the confusions of youth, and the suffering that
comes when the cute girls in Ms. Richardson’s advanced
English class make fun of your weird hair. However, I place
no such sanctions of “A Flower Died the Day You Called Me
A Dork”, my much later revisiting of the same subject matter.
Unfortunately, that particular free verse epic is far too long
and too terrifying to inflict on you all. Instead, starting later
today, I will share the three modes of bad poetry I enjoy the