Monday, March 17, 2008

Poetry cliches

The Virginia Quarterly Review, one of those obscure and probably old literary magazines that most colleges subscribe to because they feel an obligation to support the arts, has a great post about poetic cliches. I used to write poetry when I was in collge and for a while afterwards, but haven't written any in a while. I suppose film school will do that to you - you suddenly have LOTS of outlets for your creativity. When I was at Swarthmore, a friend of mine and I were talking about the cliches of bodily fluids in poetry - i.e., blood, sweat and tears. This friend of mine joked that no one wrote about lymph nodes. So I offered to do that. It was called "Panta Rhei," which is Latin for "everything flows" (my friend minored in Latin). I have no idea where it is any more, but I'm proud of the fact that, many, many years ago, I was so sensitive to artistic cliches that I made fun of them, and it only now that the poetry establishment is catching up to me. Ha!

hat tip: Andrew Sullivan


Waldo Jaquith said...

Uh. No. You have the wrong impression entirely. There are many words used to describe VQR, but "obscure" doesn't come up much. (Nor does the concept of subscribing to us to "support the arts.") Here are a few articles that might disabuse you of these notions:

Art Spiegelman: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@?*!
Toño Angula Daneri: Aicuña Is Not an Albino Town
David J. Morris: The Big Suck: Notes from the Jarhead Underground
Chris Ware: Jordan W. Lint
Ashley Gilbertson: Last Photographs
Erik Campbell: The Accidental Plagiarist: The Trouble with Originality

And, since you're a poetry fan:

Odi Gonzales: Urban Virgins
Tom Sleigh: Airport Economy Inn
C. Dale Young: Sepsis
Adrienne Rich: Behind the Motel
Billy Collins: August

Seriously, just pick a couple of these and look at them, whatever appears interesting. You're unlikely to find us pitiable.

JohnTEQP said...

Ah, my bad. I take it back. My apologies to the good people at the Virginia Quarterly Review! Those comments were my biases showing through. I left academia with something of a bad taste in my mouth, so I'm a little too dismissive of the liberal arts. So I stand corrected! My faith is somewhat restored. I liked the literary posts - clearly more interesting than I used to see in these kinds of journals. Creative and innovative. Good work there.

But my opinions of poetry were not changed by the links here to the poems published in VQR. I read lots of poetry in college, but have long been disillusioned with contemporary poetry. Reading these poems, I finally figured out why: they are almost entirely observational. The characters in them don't DO anything. They just stand there watching the world go by. Not that there's anything wrong with observing in a poem - that's pretty much the point. But consider that very cliched Robert Frost poem about taking the road less traveled. One reason that resonates with so many people is that he actually made a decision. I don't feel like any of the people in these poems are capable of making decisions. Which, to me, means that the characters lack definition. But thanks for sharing! I'll have to pick up a copy of VQR the next time I am in a Borders.

Waldo Jaquith said...

I'm actually with you on a good bit of contemporary poetry. It's so often a string of adjectives, the literary equivalent of a frosted window. It just doesn't do anything for me. (I've actually enrolled in an undergraduate poetry course here at UVa this semester, in an effort to get a better sense of it.) VQR wins accolades for our poetry, and we've published the biggest names in poetry in the 20th-21st centuries, so I understand in the abstract that it's good...but I'm simply not equipped to make that call myself.

An analogy of music might be fitting, since that I get. :) Somebody might tell me that a radio station is great because they play Queens of the Stone Age , Good Charlotte, Everclear and The White Stripes, and that might be true, but none of those bands do anything for me. Are they good? I don't know. But I don't like them.

Anyhow, I hope you'll pick up VQR. (Also, 30-50% of each issue is available online for free.) Though perhaps we won't make a poetry convert out of you, the prose and artwork is pretty awesome. In fact, there's a big announcement coming out tomorrow from the National Magazine Awards to that effect.

Thanks for keeping an open mind!

JohnTEQP said...

Cool, common ground! I will definitely pick up a copy of VQR the next time I see it at Borders. Maybe I'll even submit some poetry to it!

I get the music analogy, because I don't like any of those bands, either.

Congrats to VQR on whatever is coming from the National Magazine Awards!