What Makes a Place Unpoetic?

When Erika Meitner visited our last class, we began with a small exercise: name the least poetic place you could think of. There were lots of bathrooms, gas/truck stations, bureaucratic places like the DMV and even a fridge. We all seemed to nod or laugh in agreement when we heard each person name their choice. My choice was the Valero gas station on Rt 63. It’s incredibly grimy and there the layout to pay inside is horrible (but paying 5 cents less for gas is an excellent perk). Nevertheless, why was this the first place I thought of? Why did others think of industrial or modern spaces? 

Is a place unpoetic because it’s man-made? Public bathrooms, truck stops, DMVs, and fridges were once all innovative designs. I like that I don’t just have to eat cured meat because now I can keep uncooked steak in the freezer. And despite the DMVs red tape, I like the array of characters you can find in a unifying space. Are these places deemed boring and gross because of their routine and practicality. Which aspect (routine, practicality, man-made) makes a setting unpoetic?

Now the greater question you should ask yourself is what is the most poetic space you could think of? What first comes to mind? Is it a forest, a corn field, a snow day? Do we pick poetic spaces like the Romantics–something that’s made by nature and incites us with wonder? We may not write poetry formally like those guys but perhaps their influence has leaked into the 21st century. If you can figure out your criteria for a poetic space, then you’ll be able to figure out what makes an unpoetic space and then critically analyze the reasoning behind that criteria.

I liked that challenge to write about an unpoetic space to make it poetic. I think we can still find wonder in a bathtub or stand in gross awe at the aged candy lining the gas station’s shelves. To me, any place can be poetic which is why I find contemporary poetry challenging and fun. There can be amazing poems about stars and Walmarts; I love that the possibilities of space are endless.

2 Replies to “What Makes a Place Unpoetic?”

  1. Interesting input! I also thought about what made a place unpoetic to us as a class, and came up with the idea that these places are linked to negative experiences, or negativity generally. Bathrooms smell, the DMV is overcrowded and incredibly frustrating, refrigerators can be linked to smelling bad- or this could just not fit with how most people think. I like how you describe what comes to mind with the most poetic place, because it totally is very romanticized. I am not even sure what I think the most poetic place is- maybe one that is just very comfortable. Thinking about writing poetry leads me to wanting to be very comfortable surrounded by nature, or maybe in a bubble bath. They are romanticized ideals because maybe writing in a more interesting or uncomfortable setting would create better, stronger poetry.

  2. The way we chose unromantic, industrial places as un-poetic goes to show that even as practicing poets we still have commonly held notion that poetry is romantic and mysterious somewhere in our heads. Obviously we should work against this. The definition of an un-poetic place should probably be one that literally leaves you unable to produce a poem. Fridges fail this definition for me, I could write about how gross the lighting inside them is. Honestly, the one place that consistently makes me feel like the world has left me is Wal-mart. If you put me in front of a desk after being there I really wouldn’t be able to do anything. I can now, and I will just to throw a wrench into any solid definition, but I really don’t want to so it will be short:

    Linoleum Changes

    Airport light and slide feet
    for a new thing. And half
    the box filled with air.

    So I suppose no place can really be un-poetic due to the simple fact that they exist.

    I realized while writing this that I don’t write too much about specific places outside of poems with an auto-biographical aspect, although I write about abstract, generalized places quite a bit.

    Perhaps something more balanced is in order, like this poem “This Room” by John Ashbery:


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