I recently downloaded an app on my phone called “Poet’s Corner.” I was immediately ambushed with amateur poems of angst and personal problems, reaching to be universal but achieving only vagueness, and I wanted to understand why I despised the majority of poems written on that forum. My starting point was this quote from Robert Rowland Smith (via Explore):
We’re at a point where more poetry is being written than published, let alone read, mainly because poetry has come to be considered so much as an outlet for personal feelings — the poem as the stylized mode of the journal entry. Even among poems that do get published — and there is a parallel with recent art — the emphasis on the recording of subjective experience is overwhelming.
I’m tempted to combat this sentiment, if only out of self-preservation. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, as evidenced by this entire blog. But it’s not as if Smith is condemning poetry about subjective experiences; rather he’s pointing out the disproportionate amount.
Poetry illustrates what makes us human. Homo sapiens developed the ability to communicate through language, but we maintained our ability to communicate through biological cues — through rhythm and aesthetic, much like a dog understands what three short barks means. There are messages encoded in our language that we did not create; a poet does not choose the meaning of a short cadence or a rhyming scheme; a speechwriter does not choose how an audience reacts to parallel statements. But rather, they work with those human universals. Poetry asks that we consider our biological tendencies as we use language; poetry as a form asks questions about our mysterious universe — a place we will never conquer, an idea we will never grasp.
There is nothing wrong with poetry that explores subjective experiences. But the problem may be that the questions asked by the content ignore the ones asked by the form.