[Insert Poet’s Name Here] Poems

As I finished writing my comment on Katie’s post about the “Geneseo School” I was comparing the different types of writing going on in our class by referring to it by the writer’s name (see my title) and I realized it’s an empty and inaccurate, though convenient, way to describe a body of work. Its not only detrimental to thinking constructively about a poet’s work, but insulting to the poet. We re-enforce the idea that poetry is somehow purer in reflecting the soul or essence of the writer when we say this; an idea that I know¬†I’m outspokenly against. Its as if we’ve nailed down some aspect of the poet’s personality by noticing patterns across their poems.

I think the fix is simple. To use an example from class, instead of calling Savannah’s most recent workshop poem a “Savannah Poem” why not call it a “Nesting Poem” or an “Inside poem.” Obviously these quick references fail to capture the complexity of a poem, but its a step in the right direction.

Any suggestions?

2 Replies to “[Insert Poet’s Name Here] Poems”

  1. I liked your thoughts on [name] poems–I’ve been thinking about these a bit too after they came up a couple of times in workshop. A “Savannah” poem or a “Robbie” poem isn’t necessarily just that. By putting a poet’s entire poetic range into the box of what seems like vague and noncommittal criticism, we as readers are not getting to the actual content of an individual poem. To say someone writes like themselves is one thing, but in calling a poem representative of someone’s entire body and capacity of work, it feels more like we are saying that a poem has flatlined; like we’ve read its entire content in the poet’s previous poems, or we feel overwhelmed by poetic deja vu. [Name] poem is sort of glazing over whatever problems or merits the poem has through a really big generalization. Instead of saying that our poems are representative of all our other poems, we should be trying to find each other’s habits and obsessions, and challenging each other to try something new in our poems. Personally, being challenged to write about something large-scale was a lot more useful to realizing my habits as a poet than being told I wrote another [name] poem (because honestly, what does that even mean?)

  2. I think what we’ve been doing in class by noticing a pattern in an individual’s poems and then calling it a “Savannah poem” or what have you is simply saying that we’ve been noticing certain preoccupations that existed in other poems cropping up in the poem being spoken about. I think at a glance the [name] poem term is useful, because it highlights a pattern to us (i.e. Savannah’s use of her sister in non-sisterly conditions), but it is necessary for us to go beyond the [name] thing and define as well as possible what we think that preoccupation is. I think that’s truly useful and challenging for a poet. It might just have been easier in class for us to say “this is a Robbie poem” than to say “this line about silent hill echoes a previous line from the last poem regarding silent hill, and might be indicative of one of Robbie’s preoccupations.” I think the [name] poem term is more a lack of specificity in criticism than it is saying that one poem is representative of all the others. Of course our poems will be similar to our other poems in some respect, but I’ve found it the most useful when people have told me that there’s a lot of quietness or nature in my poems. I guess the idea that I’m trying to get across here is that we should always strive to be as specific as possible (unless we’re being purposely abstract in our poems).

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