Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Rhythm, No Rhyme, No Fun

A few years ago, I read an essay in Newsweek about how nobody reads poetry anymore because we're all too lazy to give it the effort it needs.  Well, I disagree.  Nobody reads poetry anymore because (a) it's too complex to get on the first reading and (b) we all have better things to do than read a boring poem twice.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (Signet Classics (Paperback)) Yesterday, I began reading Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  Several times in the first 50 or so pages, Mr. Carroll interrupts the narrative with a poem, usually spoken by one of the characters.  For example, Alice recites the following to a blue caterpillar on a mushroom:

'You are old,' said the youth, 'and your jaws are too weak/For anything tougher than suet;

Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak--/Pray, how did you manage to do it?'

'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law,/And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,/Has lasted the rest of my life.'

Now, I don't have any idea what that means.  But I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed typing it.  The poem is just plain fun to read, so I will read it again.  Shakespeare's sonnets are another example.  Who doesn't enjoy reading those crazy 14-liners?  I don't even mind reading Emily Dickinson a few times to try to get what she's saying.  Rhyme + Rhythm = Fun.

Other poets, on the other hand, like T.S. Eliot, don't make any sense on the first reading, and it's just not fun enough to try to read it again.  No rhythm + no rhyme = no fun.  People don't read modern poetry because it's too hard and not fun enough.

I realize how shallow this probably sounds, but if modern poetry were more entertaining, maybe people would read it more.  If you're going to write boring syncopated prose and call it "poetry," don't complain when nobody reads it.


The T.J. Hooper said...

Your post's title reminded of my favorite poem, ever. "Feel the rhythm, Fell the rhyme, get on up, it's bobsled time! Cool Runnings!"

J. Clark said...

I know this comment will probably never be read (as it is so late), but I just read this post and feel that I have to say something in defense of my main man TS.

No, TS isn't a rhyming poet (or, not usually), but the rhythm part is another thing. He's got tonnes of rhythm. But more importantly, his poetry is so full of ideas and allusions that you can legitamately spend two months thinking about "the wasteland" or "four quartets" and still not run out of things to think about.

Pitting Carroll against Eliot is like asking somebody if cotton candy or steak tastes better. The answer depends on the mood you're in.

Jeremy Masten said...

I'll have you know that I read every comment people make on my blog, even if I don't respond. When you say "tonnes," are we talking metric tonnes? Because I think those are different from English tons. But I'm not sure.

I think your steak-or-cotton-candy analogy is a good'n, but it doesn't explain why poetry isn't very popular. I'm not saying that it ought to be popular, but it won't be popular as long as it's so hard.