Today I’m mixing things up a little. As I’ve been doing all this week, I read ten poems and have chosen one to share with you. But I am also organizing the others by common theme to demonstrate a few additional poetry lessons.
Today’s featured poem is
Lower the Standard: That’s My Motto
by Karl Shapiro
Lower the standard: that’s my motto. Somebody is always putting the food out of reach. We’re tired of falling off ladders. Who says a child can’t paint? A pro is somebody who does it for money. Lower the standards. Let’s all play poetry. Down with ideals, flags, convention buttons, morals, the scrambled eggs on the admiral’s hat. I’m talking sense. Lower the standards. Sabotage the stylistic approach. Let weeds grow in the subdivision. Putty up the incisions in the library façade, those names that frighten grade-school teachers, those names whose Us are cut like Vs. Burn the Syntopicon and The Harvard Classics. Lower the standard on classics, battleships, Russian ballet, national anthems (but they’re low enough). Break through to the bottom. Be natural as an American abroad who knows no language, not even American. Keelhaul the poets in the vestry chairs. Renovate the Abbey of cold-storage dreamers. Get off the Culture Wagon. Learn how to walk the way you want. Slump your shoulders, stick your belly out, arms all over the table. How many generations will this take? Don’t think about it, just make a start. (You have made a start.) Don’t break anything you can step around, but don’t pick it up. The law of gravity is the law of art. You first, poetry second, the good, the beautiful, the true come last. As the lad said: We must love one another or die.
I chose this poem to feature for two reasons: first, because my running theme today is what can make a poem and this is a fantastic example. The subject of this poem is one of the poet’s own beliefs/criticisms of society. Really, it reads to me like a rant. But it’s an amusing, intelligent, and well-written rant: it is satirical, hard-hitting (“those names that frighten grade-school teachers”), true (even painfully true– “an American abroad who knows no language, not even American”); it references pop culture and traditional standards and current events. Also, the voice here! Saucy! I likes it.
But the main reason I wanted to share this is because the poetry I’ve shared so far this week has been mostly either form poetry or free verse. One might argue that this poem is also free verse, but unlike those I have shared before it, “Lower the Standard” has no line breaks; it’s a paragraph. This poem of Karl Shapiro’s is a “prose poem” in its plainest form.
What separates prose from other poetry? Read this: “Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry” by Howard Nemerov.
More poems that play off of current events and pop culture
Where there is a contentious topic, there is usually a poem. Or a bushel of poems. Or a field. If you want to write a poem, but can’t find a topic to write about, look no further than your local headlines. The key is to take a well-known topic and bring a new/different perspective to it, like these poems do:
- “At the Bomb Testing Site” by William Stafford
- “Barbie Talks Back” by Robin S. Chapman (unable to find online: included in “The Way In” anthology)
What else can a poem be? The everyday, for one…
Alright. You want to write a poem and haven’t got anything to add to popular news topics/contentious issues. Then why not write about something ordinary? The following poems take something totally mundane and render it playfully with reverence, wonder and whimsy:
Other awesome hard-hitters, and the rest of today’s reading:
- “Complicity” by David Kirby
- “An Eye for an Eye” by Philip Appleman
- “Bad Time for Poetry” by Bertrolt Brecht
- “To the Stone-Cutters” by Robinson Jeffers*** (One of my absolute favorites)
C’est tout! Enjoy the weekend, wordies.