I have no real qualifications to write this post. I don’t know what divides a good poem from a bad one. I do have an English degree, and we probably did discuss that kind of thing, but all that knowledge fell out of my head the day I graduated and then I had children and everything else fell out of my head too, so the only real excuse I have for this post is this: I have written terrible poetry. Mostly as a teenager, but some since. I didn’t know it was terrible at the time but I know it now.
And that’s ok. Writing poetry doesn’t have to be about writing good poetry. It’s a creative release, it’s good for your soul, and if you write a lot of it you probably get better at it, unless you just don’t have any feeling for words and will never develop any, in which case… you’re still allowed to write poetry if you want to.
The big question is, whether you’re going to show it to anyone else. Because that’s when your poem stops being the quivering, ecstatic expression of your inner being and becomes a series of terrible words on paper that your best friend is laughing at. So you’d better be prepared for that.
Kirsten Stewart recently read a poem she’d written out to Marie Claire. (If you haven’t read it, don’t read it yet.) Reactions have been – negative. And it is not a good poem. Bbut how bad is it exactly? So much of poetry is about context: I know I’ll react differently if I’m told a verse is by a famous – or at least published – poet, than if it’s just something I’ve found on the internet. So as a very unscientific test, let’s look at some first verses of poems. Some are by published, though not necessarily famous, poets. Some are from various goth poems a friend and I found online several years ago. A couple are from famous poets and one is Kirsten Stewart’s. I’ll put the attributions in a comment.
I’d love to know which is your favourite and least favourite excerpt.
All these years,
without knowing it,
I’ve been preparing for my rebirth
as a book.
Three green birds
sit in a green tree
in the month of January.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
Beyond the beauty of the external
He is moving his mouth in a strange way
(Girl watches him from the side of her eyes,
She is the “paranoid android”
Come upon later,
like a dream recalled at lunchtime.
Dark as deep water, bone cold.
Where is she now;
the woman who poured into a white cup?
I reared digital moonlight
You read its clock, scrawled neon across that black
Kismetly… ubiquitously crestfallen
Thrown down to strafe your foothills
See, see the short sky
Marvel at its big virulent green depths.
Tell me, do you
Wonder why the slug ignores you?
Like a fish trap woven from grasses,
It allows passage of the element
In which it is suspended.
The Softest of beads dribble southward
offering a glisten to dirtied sidewalks
washing away sins of the oppressed cracks
in so many forms she rinses clean
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Instead of panting and gasping from second to second
Like a torrent hurtling from rock to rock with no special merit,
More slowly, without moving, ankles crossed, hands clasped,
Observe, as if it were the whole world at once,
An object, slight and domestic, for example
Darkness descended upon me
Like an ancient mistress
And wrapped me in
An uncomfortable cloak of woeful distress.
Skintight virgins in a rush
their red on red sashay
through vines, so plush
their seeds and flesh
all bite-size blush
so much depends upon
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white chickens. < – 15. What we wanted was to watch him silver fall Cut the surface of the water and leave no bruise Every earth bound angel who was taught his body was a sin Calculates in his head equations needed to sculpt the air As he aims from grim height for the promise of blue – 16. Always covering myself in clothes or cloaks of words which only dogs hear: in truth I was nude and didn’t know which parts to cover or if I could finally uncover it all. – 17. That crazed girl improvising her music. Her poetry, dancing upon the shore, Her soul in division from itself Climbing, falling She knew not where, Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship — Having read all these in one go, I find I no longer have any idea what’s good or bad, or what words mean or how to put them together. Someone help me.