This morning I had the pleasure of reading Alison Trotta’s new book of poetry, I Don’t Love You Pretty. It was absolutely delightful and I enjoyed it very much. I also enjoyed a conversation I had with Ali yesterday about “life-threatening poems” (her phone’s autocorrect was apparently feeling confrontational). It got me thinking, though, about the Bad Poems I’ve encountered in my life and the people who saw fit to torture me with them.
Why is it, do you suppose, that for every truly horrible poem ever written, there’s someone (often NOT the poet) who feels the need to corner you and read it aloud to you? It’s not as if reading it aloud is going to make it better. Even good poetry can be mutilated by an injudicious reading. At my father’s funeral, an over-emotive preacher managed to butcher Dylan Thomas’ “The Strong Are Saying Nothing”, for heaven’s sake!
When I was working fast food about a decade ago (a lifestyle that is, itself, a bad poem just waiting to happen), I had a co-worker whose relationship with her then-husband veered wildly between homicidal and saccharine. When they were not trying to kill one another, he would write her long, torrid missives that they both euphemistically called “love poems”. She would bring them to work and, not content to just read them aloud once, she would corner everyone on the shift individually, sniffling dramatically, demanding if that wasn’t “the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard”, and completely ignoring my attempts to drown myself in the dish sink.
A few years later, after I’d escaped the world of fast food, I found myself at an older sister’s house one Thanksgiving. She’d been online once too often and had come across a pages and pages and pages long poem about the dangers of drug use, which, for some reason, she felt I vitally needed to hear. I don’t know why. Of all my relatives, I’m probably the least-likely to get involved in the world of crystal meth, and, in fact, I’ve never been addicted to anything at all except words. I will say, though, that I was much more likely to seek the oblivion of a drugged stupor *after* being forced to listen to the thing than I was before.
Where “Loverboy’s” poems had no sort of form or rhythm or rhyme, this monstrosity was at least divided into lines and made an attempt at a rhyme scheme. Unfortunately, it was the sort of rhyme scheme that fails to realize that words like “band” and “end” don’t. The lines, too, were awkward lengths and showed no understanding of meter. It was as if Justin Bieber and Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz had a kid and he read Gwendolyn Brooks, e.e. cummings, and G.M. Hopkins without understanding them and then tried to write poetry.
I suppose these experiences weren’t entirely wasted, though. I learned an important lesson about never sitting in the corner chair that you can’t easily escape from. Also, I believe I’ve learned to recognize the warning signs of “I’ve Come To Inundate You With Bad Poetry” and, hopefully can avoid such encounters in the future. In any case, I now have a water gun, and I know how to use it!