Poetry I Can’t Be Polite About: Also, “Wicked Poets”

Is there something in your life you care so much about that you can’t speak politely on the subject?

For me, poetry is that subject.

Perhaps that is why I so largely look for virtues rather than defects when I work with individual poets. When you can’t be polite, you must be good, or burn it all down.

I am not in favor of burning it all down.

But every now and then I must let my feelings out to give the popular poets a good verbal flogging and remind them how pretentious they are. When your modus operandi is to look for virtues, and you still can’t find them, someone needs to assume the position.

This is not a new poem. Every now and then I go and add verses to it. I expect I shall continue to do so.

Oh, you wicked poets!
you poets of hang dog-syntax
and hang-dog recitation!
you poets of noun-verb-noun
you poets of self-watching-self-watching-self
you poets who know
what academic readers will do to your poem
and you just roll over!

Oh, you poets of stuttering and ums,
you poets of not even trying,
you poets of trying too hard at
not even trying

Oh, you poets who
(13-year-old girl on the phone with a boy)
Don’t Know What to Talk About;
oh you poets of
consoling isn’t it

And what about you poets 
Who sneer at your fellow man
and his work because –
unluckily he was born
before us so obviously
he wrote when oppression and aggression
were in session

And their brothers of suppression and repression
is transgression
you poets who
insist it’s not pornographic because
you’re so old
and you put all the gross parts in
and after all people do piss while they kiss
hey that rhymes

Oh and hey you poets who wouldn’t know
a proper sentiment if it bowed to you in the street
You poets of torpid sitting there
till something screams
till someone breaks
till divorce murder cannibal fuck
a sharp pencil went up my anus
damn I’m intense lets turn the fucking volume up to

And oh, you fatherly gently smiling poets
who won’t let your literary children read poetry
unless it’s as unlike poetry as possible

you poets of hidden prejudice
against minds with otherness distilled
with chant and music filled
with dancing gait
admiring eyes
for seas and skies
you have stifled
you have trifled
you have blathered
you have slavered
you have –

-oh, you wicked poets! –

you have gagged me
until I gagged.


  1. Yes, I have met some “poets of self-watching-self-watching-self” – Are these the persons who were once called confessional poets? (If so, I think your description is more accurate.) But most aggravating of all are the “hang-dog recitation” guys. I stopped going to readings on college campuses because of that strange forced reverence and misuse of speech rhythms.

    As for “minds with otherness distilled,” I would keep an eye out for them if it weren’t that the eye gets tired of looking, gets a bit lonely and wants to come back inside and just read from the old books,where I often find

    [a] dancing gait
    admiring eyes
    for seas and skiesI

    This is an enjoyable project to follow, Alana. Keep at it. As in the example above, true poetry will out. (Also I think you are warming up for the Sidney Lanier contest. Clever!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So I’ve thought about it and I decided I don’t want to identify individual poets to whom I may have been alluding in this poem. The harshness of the language is only appropriate, I think, when the “poets” are actually a handy front for talking about movements and tendencies within poetry. ‘Wicked’ – well, it only works as hyperbole I guess.


  3. Here is a poet who agrees with you (excerpted fom Ben Lerner’s eulogy the other day) :

    “In piece called ‘Op Ed,’ she wrote

    ” ‘ I believe in hardheaded art, an unremitting, unrepentant practice of one’s own faith in the word in one’s own obstinate terms. I believe the word was made good from the start; it remains so to this second. I believe words are golden as goodness is golden. Even the humble word brush gives off a scratch of light. There is not much poetry from which I feel barred, whether it is arcane or open in the extreme. I attempt to run the gamut because I am pulled by the extremes. I believe the word used wrongly distorts the world. I hold to hard distinctions of right and wrong. ‘

    “She had no illusions about what poetry could do in the face of “the factory model, the corporate model, the penitentiary model, which by my lights are one and the same.” But she had no patience for disillusion, for those who would surrender their wonder before the world. (“Poetry is the language of intensity. Because we are all going to die, an expression of intensity is justified.”)

    “Carolyn D. Wright was born in the Ozarks, in 1949, the daughter of a judge and a court reporter.. . .”

    Liked by 1 person

    • She seems like she was an interesting lady. I read someone similar recently, who talked about ‘faith in the word’ or something like that. And I do have an idea sort of like that, but differently. I don’t think it means that whatever a word can do, that’s poetry. I firmly believe that it’s the higher behavior of words that is poetic, not just any old thing that words happen to do.


      • I should have read some of her poems before quoting the review. I tend to get enthusiastic about someone else’s enthusiasm. Now that I’ve read a few I’m not sure that what she says about wrong use of words holds up in her poems. They seem uneven. Parts are very “poetic,” but that’s different from making a poem.

        I fall for the lure of poetic expressions myself. I also respond more positively when I hear a confident artist read her own poems (with short intros or commentary afterwards) than when I sit with a book or a page of poetry. That is to say, good poems don’t give themselves away easily, but it’s not hard (for me) to be swayed by the energy or conviction of someone who gives away himself in his work as he speaks it.

        So I think I would value C. D. ‘s poems if I had met her. Even now, I can pick up in her lines an intensity that I respect,though whether she exhibits “the higher behavior of words” is certainly in question. I doubt that I’ll buy any of her books. I did order three from our library, so I’m still open.

        BTW I just got a copy of a new book that makes me think more about words. It’s called “The Fellowship – The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams” written by Philip and Carol Zaleski, co-authors of a book that opened my eyes a few years ago called “Prayer, A History.” I didn’t know much about the Inklings beyond a few references and quotations. It was in reading the Curmudgeon that I was introduced to Charles Williams’ novels, and a book about poetic diction by Barfield. I am grateful for that. Your efforts here are making the world richer for many readers.

        One interesting thing I learned so far from “The Fellowship” : C. S. Lewis’ confidence as an apologist almost shattered in 1948 when his views on evolution were challenged by G. E. M. Andscombe, “a Catholic convert, student of Wittgenstein, and arguably the most brilliant moral philosopher of her generation.” (P. 362). So ladies were not part of the fellowship, but they kept pace with the gentlemen’s thinking. Also, Dorothy L. Sayers was a friend of Lewis, and sought help from him occasionally . And then there was Sister Penelope. And the poet Ruth Pitter, whose work was highly respected at the time but has been lost in the march of literary fashion. I was pleased to see that women were important in the intellectual atmosphere fostered by those men.

        Where the Zalewsiki authors write, “Dorothy L. Sayers was not the only woman who might have made a splendid Inkling,” I could add that I know at least one who would add something to that group.

        Liked by 1 person

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