The Poetry Reading


Poetry Reading

In poetry everything is permitted. With only this condition of course, you have to improve the blank page.
Nicanor Parra

The young man is asked to read his poem,
The Folly of One’s Endeavors, forty lines
of free verse which he delivers with self-
assured panache, imagines the plaudits
that will follow. Wrong. The instructor says
the poem feels contrived and unoriginal, overly
poemish (a new term for him). Her judgment
is that the poet’s style is strained, imitative
of much of today’s mediocre poetry.

The work is rudderless, without
a defined course, a poem must have
purpose she scolds. It isn’t
a framework to decorate with
tormented metaphors and similes.
She says his parched similes must
have crawled knees, belly, and
elbows across the Mojave to find
a poem, any poem.

She suggests his attempts at poetic
obscurity, mid-poem, are silly and
self-indulgent, tells him family and friends
who might read his poems will expect clarity —
leave perplexity to John Ashbery, Poetry
Magazine, and word play enthusiasts.

Wrapping up it is revise, revise, revise —
hammer your thoughts into something meaningful.
And please, please, please, do not use the word
diaphanous in a poem, ever again. Along with
the withering critique, this was the extent
of the instructor’s counsel.

Properly chastened, with a mix of humility
and anger, the deflated poet swallows hard,
thanks the instructor for the appraisal.
He folds his poem into quarters, places it
in a file folder, eager to make it disappear.

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