Do bad poets just need therapy?
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It's poetry night at the Gypsy Coffee House in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I go because I have an MFA in poetry. I go because I miss poetry being read aloud. I go to get inspired with my own writing. And . . . well . . . OK, all right. I admit it. I go to heckle. Just a little. Just a teeny bit.
We get out of the car and come face-to-face with the emotionally needy: the goths ("Shit, I thought that was so out," I say. My friend shrugs.), the grunge kids ("OK. I know that's out," I say. My friend shrugs again---this time with slightly more shoulder.), the "arty" peoples with colored hair and Goodwill clothing (I can say nothing to my friend as she is now in line for coffee on the other side of the room.).
"I love the smell of angst in the evening." Paraphrasing Jason Lee from "Mallrats." My friend chuckles a little, not too loud. We manage to claw our way to a couch in the back.
And this is what I learned over the next two hours (or re-learned, as I knew most of this but hadn't had to personally face it in many years):
1.) If your poem rhymes to the rhythm of nursery school patter or the theme to "The Beverly Hillbillies," stop writing poetry immediately.
2.) If you have rhymed moon, loon, spoon, June, and/or cocoon, not only do you probably own residuals to Creedance Clearwater Revival, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Ozzie Osborn, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Rogers and Hart (all writers of moon-related tunes), you should probably be warned that I'm playing a game in the back of the room that I've entitled "beat that rhyme." I'm a champ at this. Nine times out of ten, I can easily anticipate your rhyming word way ahead of time---to the giggles of a small perimeter of the bored around me.
Just ask my friend. She was having difficulty keeping the mirth inside, and she slyly whispered, "You are evil." when I managed to anticipate every, single rhyme for one poet's incredibly long, mushy love letter to his woman---a woman who is probably anticipating leaving him just on the poor quality of his poetry alone.
"Stop writing that crap to me," I can hear her say.
3.) Keep your woman to yourself. Really. Good or bad. I don't care how much she loves you; I don't care how much the bitch has done you wrong. Raw emotion does not make a good poem. You're making the master of the polished, raw word---the angry little Allen Ginsberg---roll in his grave.
4.) If you have to preface your poem with something along the lines of, "This is about this one summer where my stupid parents sent me to stupid summer camp and I got the mumps and then the one girl I really liked laughed at me when I tried . . ." you have NOT written a poem. You have written a journal entry.
Repeat after me: Poetry is not therapy.
Poetry is not therapy.
Poetry is not therapy.
If yours IS therapy, don't read it to me. I'm not your psychiatrist. I don't get paid to deal with your emotional problems.
Now, don't get me wrong, there were a number of talented poets there. Well, there were a few talented poets there.
OK. All right. There was ONE talented poet there, but that's better than a stick in the eye----most of the time.
Kathleen Davis sits on the moon in June waiting for the opening of her cocoon.