Monday, July 26, 2010

Is poetry boring?

Recently I've heard a few people who used to write and enjoy poetry say that they now find poetry terribly boring and whenever they try to read it, they feel as though "life is passing them by." (You know who you are.)

I find this strange -- not because I don't think poetry is boring, but because I'm surprised they didn't think it was boring before. Is poetry boring? Yes, of course it is. Life is boring. Writing of all kinds (novels, movie reviews, the news) is boring, museums are boring, TV and movies and the Internet are mostly boring, exercise is boring, work is boring, school is boring, even sex can be boring. Most of modern life is an elaborate exercise in killing time, since there is little doubt we'll all live into our nineties, if not eternally. Anything novel is a temporary cure for boredom (a new hobby, being pregnant for the first time, drugs) but things become boring again eventually (even money).

I like the subhead of Kathy Rooney's latest column for the Southtown Star: "Why poetry doesn't matter now any less than it ever has." It doesn't insist that poetry matters, whatever that means, just that it didn't use to matter more.

Most poetry readings are indeed terribly boring. I can't be bothered to finish most poems I start to read, much less most books. Most food is not worth eating (unless you're starving), I prefer silence to most music most of the time, given anything else to do, I'd rather languish with my own thoughts than watch most TV, etc. Poetry is boring, except when it isn't.

72 comments:

  1. in my case, it has nothing to do with the writing. the writing is the same. it's my reaction to it that's changed. i just don't know why. (well maybe i do, somewhat.)

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  2. Boring suggestion: see John Berryman on "boring!"

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  3. Don't you think it's just that it isn't novel anymore? Both the poetry itself and the scene?

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  4. no, that's not it, in my case

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  5. What do you think it is, if you know somewhat?

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  6. it's a little too personal to discuss, i think:)

    but it isn't a problem of novelty, because novels are even less novel (ha ha) and i still enjoy those immensely.

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  7. Poetry and the poetry scene have always been around. The fact is there is very little great art. Truly great art. We read more poetry these days because it is accessible. Most of it is crap.

    The art of poetry is extremely difficult. Lots of people these days assume poetry is easy because they like to write. Or they have an advanced degree. This is simply not the case.

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  8. True true, RK.

    M, I find most novels boring too. It can take me months to find one that appeals enough to be worth weeks of my life. Most stuff at bookstores, of course, I dismiss entirely out of hand.

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  9. i know most poetry is crap. that's not the issue, trust me:)

    actually i think i like more novels than i dislike. to me they are easy to like, even if the writing isn't the best.

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  10. I might like more perfume than I dislike currently, but I think I still have novelty on my side.

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  11. i also prefer music over silence, tv over my own thoughts, etc. my own thoughts are depressing!

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  12. I couldn't agree with you more. Everything is boring, either because it's all been done before, or because we've all grown so desensitized to novelty that we couldn't recognize real innovation if we wanted to.

    I blame the Internet for this (as I blame it for just about everything that's wrong with humanity); the volume of words, images, and sounds that bombard us today is impossible to process and it's growing exponentially. Our only defense is to curl up into a sort of intellectual fetal position. We happily limit our mental bursts to 140 characters. We spend our time reading shit that people take minutes to write instead of years. And the majority of what we read is not really written for humans but for some Googly-eyed algorithms.

    Poetry is organic. I don't think we're conditioned to do "organic" anymore which is why it has become boring. (I have a 1959 issue of LIFE magazine where beat poetry was featured prominently on the cover. How likely is something like that to happen today?)

    In the past 15 or so years, I've spent the majority of my time in an environment where my scope of vision and thought is strongly influenced by the physical limitations of a machine. I can give you the hexadecimal and RGB values for 10 different shades of green for a web graphic but I couldn't identify 10 of the hundreds of varieties of wild plants growing around my house.

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  13. My own thoughts have veered toward depressing lately too, but depressing and boring are different ...

    Conversation is better than most of these things. I've never understood (well, not in my adult life) why people go to movies as a social activity. If you're going to be social, be social. You can watch movies alone.

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  14. LR, the poet Christian Bok was featured in Wired recently, though not on the cover ...

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  15. depressing or boring, it's undesirable either way! i would take up drinking, but i've heard that kind of habit can be bad.

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  16. Drinking when you're depressed just makes you more depressed. Not sure if it has the power to make you more bored, though.

    Drinking bores me lately too. I don't get buzzed anymore and the hangovers just get worse.

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  17. actually yeah maybe you are getting a little depressed, you know what with food not tasting good etc. maybe you should pound the caffeine for a week

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  18. Hey, thanks. I just read the Wired piece on Christian Bök but it really had nothing to do with poetry. It was about his plans to encode the alphabet into DNA so that his work would "live on after he was gone." And he would have to make some serious literary concessions to do so:

    "Bök will have to choose his ciphers carefully, as his poem chemically ordains the sequence of amino acids that the bacteria will create in response...He says his poem will probably need to have a 'repetitive, incantatory quality.'"

    So he wouldn't be writing the stuff; he's be programming bacteria to do it. Boring. Once again, the organic quality of art is sacrificed to accommodate technology.

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  19. I don't know that I'd agree it had nothing to do with poetry. I mean, the Beats were famous for their lifestyle more than their writing, probably.

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  20. Agreed. Maybe "little to do with poetry" would have been more accurate. It just seems like a look-how-clever-a-poet-I-am joke to get his name in the press. No way is he ever going to pull it off.

    I don't think it was the lifestyles of the Beats that made them famous. Rather, they were the literary/academic embodiment of a lifestyle. They kind of legitimized the reefer-smoking, bongo-playing, black beret and turtlenecking subculture that was developing at the time.

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  21. Well, that guy really is deeply interested in technology. I think he's legitimately interesting, but you have to be interested in conceptual poetry (which I am). And he had already written a best-selling poetry book (Eunoia) so it's not like he was desperately groping for his five minutes.

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  22. BTW that's best-selling period, not just "for poetry":

    A Calgary poet whose book won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002 has scored an hit with the U.K. publication of his book, which came seven years after its release in Canada.

    Christian Bok's Eunoia, released in Britain in October, became the No. 8 seller on Amazon U.K. Christmas week, made the Times of London's list of the year's top 10 books and remains the top-selling book of poetry in Britain.

    Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2009/01/05/eunoia-poet.html#ixzz0uoTPrmHR

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  23. i've been struggling to stay interested in poetry lately. fortunately, some other kids and i have formed a poetry book club that gets together once a month. just knowing i have to be prepared to discuss our book for the month makes me more engaged (and the poetry less boring).

    one book i just read that is the opposite of boring is CA Conrad's The Book of Franks. Killa-illa!

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  24. I've been bringing in 3-10 poems to my workshop each week to illustrate some concept I want to discuss, and reading a poem deeply enough to say something interesting about it makes me like it much more. Similarly, I get a lot more out of a book when I intend to review it.

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  25. Wow. Very cool stuff. When I was a kid, I found a book in the BPL that was written without using the letter "e" and it was almost readable.

    I find conceptual poetry as interesting as the next guy but, for me at least, it's not real poetry (whatever that is). It's linguistic parlor tricks -- finding a way to still make sense while voluntarily submitting to a rigid set of arbitrary rules.

    Why write a chapter of a book using no other vowel than "a"? Because it's fun, a mental challenge, and to show that it can be done, I suppose. But not to "communicate" anything since there are far more efficient and effective ways to do that.

    Hey. Here's a poem I just wrote where every line is an anagram of my pseudonym:

    Ted leers ere
    Ed leers tree.
    Deserter eel
    Leered Ester
    Else red tree.

    That was fun.

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  26. Pshaw. Most real poetry isn't real poetry either. Are sonnets not real poetry? There are more effective and efficient ways to communicate than in iambic pentameter. There are more effective and efficient ways to communicate than poetry. Every poem involves arbitrary choices. Anyway, poems convey in ways other than direct one-to-one reference of words to concepts. The form in which one chooses to write a poem always says something, the method is simply foregrounded in conceptual poetry. Meta ideas are just as interesting as overt ideas.

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  27. people often use the words "parlor trick" or "game" in a disparaging way, but what's wrong with games and tricks? play, in other words. play is good. it's what art is about, i think.

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  28. I agree, art with no element of humor/play/invention/adventure usually leaves me cold.

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  29. I agree. Play is fun. Parlor tricks are fun. Language can be a lot of fun. (I do the "Jumble" in the newspaper every day before I read my horoscope.) A life without fun, adventure or novelty is boring. Maybe poets just aren't having that much "fun" anymore when they write and are taking it all too seriously.

    Everything says something, no? Even the choice not to write a poem says something (i.e., I am not writing a poem). So then, could the absence of poetry in some sense be considered a form of poetry?

    BTW, one anagram of your name is Algebra Bites.

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  30. Algebra's not so bad. I'm rather fond of algebra.

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  31. No offense. Just cool anagrams of your name that are remotely related to poetry.

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  32. Poetry is not nearly boring enough for me.

    I find myself wanting to think about poems even after I've finished them.

    And I want to keep some of the books, rather than throwing them into the Weber.

    It's most disconcerting!

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  33. Oh dear ... perhaps you should read books about poetry rather than the poems themselves? That might do the trick.

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  34. One of the principal reasons I've never applied to an MFA program is that (assuming I was admitted to a program) I've suspected that it would ultimately make most poetry boring for me.

    In real life, however, I can't conceive of feeling that poetry is boring.

    Very much of the poetry I've read, or attempted to read, or skimmed or glanced at, over the past 40+ years I've been writing, doesn't much speak to me, and so I don't feel motivated to read it, but that seems to me a slightly different thing from boring.

    Something like 3 or 4 or 5 percent of the poetry I check out does speak to me, and I can't get enough of it.

    The film critic Roger Ebert a number of years back wrote an article or essay, some such thing, on the replacement of existentialism by irony as a central motivating force in modern culture.

    From this, boredom follows in the wake.

    But there is still hope. We carry on in the face of it. And quietly, bravely, scientists work toward one day finding a cure...

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  35. Coffee is not boring. I should write a poem about the correlation between caffeine and writing. I agree with Biddinger here, but I'm trying to get accepted at Barn Owl.

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  36. Lyle,

    It's strange you should say that, because my MFA was one of the times in my life when i was most excited about poetry. it of course had to with my age (27-29), the fact that i had just moved to NYC and the awesome people i met in my program. it was a great time in my life.

    the only time i was more excited about poetry was when i was just getting into DIY publishing went to my first AWP (the one in austin).

    maybe what i'm trying to say is that part of what makes poetry exciting to me is the idea of a poetry community. the times above were when i was most involved on a daily, intense basis with other poets who's work i admired.

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  37. I also got most excited about poetry after going to AWP for the first time. And I was hella prolific during the last couple of years of my MFA program ...

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  38. I love this post.

    Although to me, while there are a ton of boring things, among them the show MASH, going to church, and listening to drunks talk, I have always been completely perplexed by the idea of boredom. I'm never bored unless I am trapped. Writing can be boring, but there's always something to read, and when I can't find anything worth reading, there's sleep, and sleep is fun. More fun than fucking MASH, anyway, God I hate that show.

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  39. how can you not like M*A*S*H???

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  40. Ha! I've never watched MASH in adulthood. As a kid I always flipped right past it, I thought all war-/army-themed stuff was unconscionably boring. My attitude hasn't changed that much, actually.

    The subtext of this post is that I think there's value in boredom. Running is a lot more boring than watching TV, which is why I think a lot more when I'm running than when I'm watching TV. The only escape from boredom is your own thoughts.

    Church is the worst because the freaking sermon is so distracting you can't even properly think. Sometimes poetry readings feel like church.

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  41. "I thought all war-/army-themed stuff was unconscionably boring."

    do you really feel that way? even when it's satire?

    have you at least seen the movie? i guess it's okay if you don't like the tv show, but i don't see how anyone could not like the movie. but even with the tv show, how can anyone not like alan alda???

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  42. No, I've gotten over it to some degree. I liked Catch 22. And Full Metal Jacket. But no, I've never seen the movie. I do like Alan Alda, of course.

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  43. i haven't seen catch-22. it's my favorite book but i heard bad things about the movie.

    when i was a kid i felt the same as you about M*A*S*H. it looked old, like it was from the 70s or something, and depressing. i was annoyed because it came on before star trek: tng, so i had to wait. but then when i actually started watching it i found out it wasn't what i thought it was, and i liked it.

    there are 11 seasons worth of alan alda you're missing out on!

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  44. There's a movie? I was talking about the book, which I read in high school.

    I'd probably watch it now, if I had a TV on which it might occasionally appear. But I'd have to go out of my way to watch it now.

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  45. The only interesting thing about MASH was the fact that Diane Arbus's husband played the shrink.



    r

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  46. I honestly don't entirely understand it myself. I think maybe the slow theme song puts me half asleep before the show starts, and now I'm watching people dying, and someone's cracking a joke, and we lost this war, and I feel like I'm in my dad's hospital room and someone's trying to cheer me up, and it's just not happening.

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  47. you really think museums are boring?

    (i honestly don't think life is all that boring, for the record.)

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  48. Most of the time, yeah. Again: except when they're not. I've had a few museum experiences that were amazing/unforgettable, but same with poetry readings. I don't think museums/galleries are intriguing by default. I've seen a lot of bad visual art, and not bad in a camp sense -- mediocre bad, bad with no grandeur.

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  49. i don't really know anything about visual art, so it all looks interesting to me. i wouldn't know how to identify bad art.

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  50. I've liked most of the poetry readings I've gone to (i.e. not found them boring). I am, however, really selective -- I don't go to readings just for the sake of going, or because the poet is famous or in town or whatever. I go, usually, because I'm at least a little familiar with the poet's work and I like at least some of what I've read.

    I liked M*A*S*H* the T.V. show for the first three or four years. After that the writing and directing and acting deteriorated steadily, and the show waffled endlessly between third-rate borscht belt retread and third-rate soap opera. I liked the movie M*A*S*H* (on which the T.V. show was based) better than the T.V. show.

    The reason M*A*S*H* the T.V. show looks like something from the 1970's is because it is.

    The M*A*S*H* theme song in the movie was the same as in the T.V. show, but in the movie it had words. The song was titled "Suicide Is Painless."

    I liked the novel Catch-22, just hilarious in many places. Couldn't put it down. I read it during high school, which was when the Vietnam war was going on. The movie Catch-22 came out shortly after that -- the movie is okay, though only a moderate shadow of the book.

    Really liked the movie Full Metal Jacket.

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  51. "The reason M*A*S*H* the T.V. show looks like something from the 1970's is because it is."

    yes. i was being sarcastic.

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  52. I really loved your post. I found it after doing a search on French poetry blogs. I was looking for French poetry because listening to poetry in French is sometimes as relaxing as eating chocolate.
    I like English poems when they are read aloud in films but poetry readings are not my thing and nor are classical music concerts or art galleries or museums though part of me thinks that I should really like those things better.
    Poetry at its finest is a very fine drug but, yes, it can be boring too.

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  53. Hi Aidan, sorry you don't find any real French poetry here but thanks for stopping by. :)

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  56. Hm, I think "dull" and "boring" are different. To me "dull" means it's just flat, uninspired, not engaging. Dull things are boring, but not all boring things are dull -- a poem might be boring because it's slow or difficult, but reading it more slowly, deeply or just better might be rewarding. I've read a lot of poetry that I ended up getting something out of even though I initially passed over it, deeming it boring and moving on.

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  57. Dear Elisa,

    When it comes to boredom (and all matters related thereto) E.M. Cioran's very perceptive.

    My thing is just the opposite. Almost nothing bores me. I assure you, it is a kind of curse.

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  58. everything is totally boring. i support this blog post

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  59. The shrink on MASH was married to Diane Arbus? Really?

    That momentarily mitigated my boredom, but it's beginning to pall already. The pall of boredom is settling on me again.

    I once read a Mary McCarthy novel set in an artists' colony. At one point it mentions an actor who carved a steak on a floor. I found out later that Montgomery Clift carved a steak on the floor of some cottage owned by McCarthy and her actor brother Kevin. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers guy.

    Am I boring you?

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  60. Yep...Alan Arbus.

    http://tinyurl.com/35t2p55

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  61. I've actually gravitated "back" to poetry. I'm certain it has something to do with turning 40, but I cannot define why I've felt such a strong urge to re-connect with the poetry I read as a student.

    I find TV boring. Debates are boring. Poetry works, at least.

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  62. Berryman, life, boring, enough said.

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  63. I can't agree that life, or poetry, is boring. I think it's that our brains tire very quickly, and what was exciting for a few moments is no longer exciting. That's not quite the same as boring. Someone going on too long about a dream they've had--that's boring in some objective sense. However, your use of the word boring as a club is funny, and gets me to see all the things you refer to in your post in a fresh way; and your implied point about the non-importance of poetry not being important seems valid and important.

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  64. An answer to long to post in its entirely here:

    http://toulousestreet.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/odd-words-43/

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  65. There aren't boring things, but boring people.

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