To those of you who have eagerly taken advantage of my free book weekend offer, I offer my deep gratitude. Your acceptance of my work shows that you believe it has potential. For this vote of faith, I thank you. Other followers who have not yet seized the opportunity to get your free Kindle copy of Growing Moon, Growing Soil: please do so! I’d hate to tell my writer friends that I couldn’t even GIVE AWAY my poems…how embarrassing.
On a separate note, I’ve been reading a lot of advice lately from writers who encourage others to “write about those things that you would never want to write about.” This near-cliche is usually followed by an admonition to confess fears, secrets, undisclosed parts of one’s past, etc. in the name of soul-cleansing and “honest art.”
Here’s where I disagree with these well-meaning pseudo-sages: Writing poetry is supposed to make the world a little better, a little more beautiful, or a little more meaningful. Some things simply don’t need exploration in poetry, however. Remember how, in junior high writing classes, they taught us to “consider our purpose and our audience?” That rule hasn’t changed. What audience is going to want to read about how you wouldn’t wear sandals to the beach because of toenail fungus? More broadly, why write about the baser matters of life when there’s so much beauty, so much history, so much grander inspiration to seize?
Maybe my gripe here comes from a biblical background: Philippians 4:8 comes regularly to my mind while writing. I use it as a test to see if my poetry bears relevance and worth. That verse reads, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” I feel an obligation as a poet to produce work that causes people to contemplate life using these criteria. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that my poetry always is autobiographical or just about the “warm fuzzies.” But, if I can get people to think in a way that this verse speaks of, even if it’s using something made up (like Christ’s parables), I’ve done my job.
Often, contemporary poetry elicits thoughts that meet some of these qualifications, but certainly not all. Keats’s Grecian Urn aside, truth is not always beauty. I know that’s unpopular talk in our culture today, with Facebook and other social media serving as conduits of over-sharing and gross uber-transparency. Where, however, is the beauty in rape? In murder? In cannibalism? This series of questions beckons back to undergraduate courses in ethics and philosophy, but no matter what school of thought you follow, you must confess: Some factual things do not pass the test for beauty, even if “beauty” is subjective (or, to quote an old aphorism, “in the eye of the beholder.”) If beauty is a matter of perspective, then certainly some twisted minds will find reasons to admire all forms of ugliness. Still, “Truth is beauty, beauty, truth” might make good verse, but too many great minds, both in and out of the humanities, have discredited it over the centuries.
Likewise (on the reverse side of this same coin), something can be lovely without necessarily being pure — think about those intricate bacteria you viewed beneath a microscope during high school science labs. Beautiful? You bet. Pure? Not in the least. My theological friends will tear apart this argument, no doubt, noting that human or scientific truth, beauty, nobility, etc. are not the issues about which Paul was writing. His aims were higher than enlightening our temporary mortal existence. I get that, but his words make a pretty great checklist for poets to strive toward also. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for artists of every genre to contemplate the audience effect achieved in Paul’s terms. Imagine the renaissance we could ignite if painters, sculptors, dancers, writers, photographers, and other creatives used Philippians 4:8 as their common assessment rubric. What bright, radiant, vibrant works could result!
I’ll step down off my soapbox now. Some things just need airing, and tonight, this little rant happened to be one of them. I hope, once again, I haven’t distanced too many of my fans or followers with this post. I would love to hear opposing or coinciding viewpoints in comments below, and PLEASE remember to take advantage of FREE BOOK WEEKEND (details below). Good night, dear readers.