by Linda Crespi
"found poem" be poetry? Can a found apple
In January, an essay
in this space argued against free verse and found
poetry. I do not want to enter the stale argument on
these terms. I wish to argue against the mind-set
which deduces from first principles that
some sort of writing or other simply CANNOT be
There was some one around to tell tell Marlowe:
"It's not proper poetry if the sentence runs
over the ends of the lines."
There was some one around to tell Homer "It's
not poetry if you write it down."
There was someone around to tell Petrarch:
"Fourteen lines is just not a good length for a
We know for certain:
There were plenty around to grumble at Whitman:
"It's not poetry because it doesn't follow the
accepted rules of scansion."
The problems with conservatism:
First: It is both easy and
satisfying to prove that innovation is wrong. Define
poetry in terms of what has gone before, and by
definition any writing that doesn't follow the
normative pattern is not poetry. Easy, and many
people will believe you.
Second: Most of the time the
conservatives are right. Most experimental work does
not produce results that will last. But nor does most
To argue of a particular piece of work: "This is
not poetry," is legitimate if the critic is
responding to the actuality of that piece.
To declare about a
form of writing: "This cannot be poetry,"
is deeply dubious, because it is condemning works
that the critic has not seen. It is condemning works
that have not yet been written.
"So can my
apple be a poem?"
"Show me your apple, and I'll decide."
The response of a good critic or editor will be
guided by the actuality of a particular text, not by
prejudices about types of text. I know that
Snakeskin's editor is allergic to prose poems. I was
delighted to see an excellent one in last
month's Libraries issue. Let diversity reign.
Poetry follows the rules I was taught at school.
This does not follow the rules.
Ergo, this is not a poem.
Was ever a syllogism more perfect or more false?
Free verse is not to be discarded because the vast
majority of free verse poems are very poor; metric
verse is not to be discarded because the vast
majority of metric poems are very poor.
Never say no.
progress in poetry?
No, but there is development, change. In each
generation good poets read the work of their
precursors, and they think:"This expresses
exactly how my precursors thought. It does not
express how I think. I must find a new form that will
be my own voice."
In each generation,
bad poets do what everybody thinks poets ought to do.
they are probably awarded grants and prizes.
in an age defined by Turing and by Gates.
Much poetry has
retreated into an opposition to our digital world,
expressing nostalgia for the funkier values of
countryside, family or slum. But it is where we live.
Poets will have to develop new forms to cope with it
(and adequately to celebrate it).
In this issue of Snakeskin, you will
find my Flash piece - "Erasure:
A Found Poem", which uses erasure techniques
to explore the hinterland of an extract from the
prose of critic Marcus Bales. Please do not waste
time on arguing about whether or not this is a poem.
Please feel very free to argue about whether it is
(The editor of
Snakeskin tells me: "I have accepted it for my
poetry magazine - therefore it is a poem." I
suspect that his logic may be faulty here, though his
intentions are kindly.)
Never say no.