Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Erin O'Connor links to, and excerpts, a screed by a poet named Tom Henihan against the evils of teaching poetry. O'Connor's agenda is the exposure of the faults of academia, and of course she concentrates on his criticism of academic instruction in creative writing, specifically poetry. I should point out that I have never taken a college course in poetry writing or appreciation. My college English experience was largely in literature, comparative religion, history, and Shakespeare. Maybe that's why I still like poetry, I don't know. O'Connor has her point, and she makes it well. I hold no brief in favor of the academy. But there are other ideas, dominating ideas, that make Henihan's essay... distinct:

Some years ago a guy I knew in Vancouver lost his job at an art gallery. Due to idleness and a lack of direction he fell in with the poetry crowd and of course started writing. His stuff was sloppy and obviously derivative but no one seemed to mind. One night sitting over a beer I cautiously asked him about his creative process. Without batting an eyelid, he told me that he typed other poets work on his computer, moved the verses around and substituted words until he had something that looked like his own. He then enthusiastically added, "This poetry thing is a blast."

What would you say if someone said this to you? Would you laugh and enjoy the joke? Or would you go off to a corner to rail against the barbarians at the gate, the barbarians within the gate, the snickering barbarians burning the shattered splinters of the gate in bonfires between their squalid yurts? I beg you, stop and marvel at the peerless shallows of a mind that is incapable of grasping the humor of that anecdote.

When student poets get up to read they almost always thank their teacher for making poetry fun. Poetry should be protected from fun. There is so much fun in the world it isn’t funny anymore. Poetry is essentially a solemn and devotional form. Funny poetry is a contradiction in terms…it’s the equivalent of kneeling in a church and saying funny prayers or chanting at a funny ritual. I am not saying that there is no room for humour in poetry but I am saying that there is very little room.

The above quote isn't selective. It is representative of the tone of the essay. There is no room for fun in poetry. Poetry is a devotional form. These sentiments makes me want to shout, makes me want to scream, makes me want to write bad haiku about my genitals and scrawl them on the sides of bathroom toilet stalls. No room for fun. What a monstrous, abominable notion.

No comments: