Why is there so much bad poetry around today? Or so much prose which is called poetry but isn’t.
Perhaps the problem is the fact that poetry is so little studied in any general sense by most people and therefore they have less ability to differentiate between what is good poetry and what is bad.
In recent decades poetry has become to mean any collection of words, anywhere from three to thirty thousand, written on a page when much of it is not poetry but prose and some of it akin to shopping lists, bus tickets or delusional dream remnants.
One wonders, with some of the poetry which succeeds or is acclaimed, whether judges are erring on the side of the obscure, as in, they don’t really understand what it is saying, if anything, but it sounds clever (sometimes it meanders all over the page and so looks clever as well) and not wanting to admit to their ignorance, being sophisticated intellectuals after all, then they ‘stamp’ it as good, brilliant, excellent or exceptional. Erring as we all do, on the side of caution. And one can do that more with poetry than other forms of writing because poetry pretty much never makes money for anyone. Ironically, the same argument should create a situation of higher standards not lesser.
There was in the past a criteria for poetry and generally it was expected to be thematic, rhythmic, musical (rhyme) to some degree, and to actually say something, if not paint a picture in words.
So much poetry, and even those poems which win awards, contain none of the above criteria and would have left our greatest poets throughout history shaking their heads. Does it matter? Yes and no.
Language is like life always in a state of evolution so why should not writing be the same? And if more people feel inclined to write because they don’t have to follow any rules at all then that too is a good thing because it is creative expression which is vital for mind, body and soul.
But surely at some point, just as all systems require principles, standards, guidelines and ‘rules,’ so too does poetry. And if we are to have a world where poetry is again, the finest and highest expression of the bard – the ancient soul workers and guides – then that will need to be pushed not just by those who are weary of so much bad poetry, or prose masquerading as poetry, but by those who can actually tell the difference.
And the only way to tell the difference is to spend more time reading the work of our greatest poets, for therein lies not just knowledge but perspective.