I am an artistic Neanderthal.
Not about everything, mind you. For the most part, I'm big on art, big on individual expression, big on pieces done in traditional styles. You want to innovate? Great! You want to just putter to make yourself happy? Awesome! You want to write free-verse poetry? GAAAAAAAAAA!
Free-verse poetry is one of my two great art weaknesses. The other one is interpretive dance. My childhood friend took ballet all throughout our youth, was captain of the Color Guard in high school, minored in Dance in college. Obviously the medium has some sort of appeal to her and conveys something. She assures me frequently that interpretive dance really is an art form. Me, I can't tell the difference between interpretive dance and a mime act. Leotards and a vague sense of uneasiness are all that come to mind when I think about either. On one occasion, some blessed soul got an interpretive dance interlude worked into our church liturgy, for a special occasion. I know it was dance because I heard the people next to me whispering about how meaningful it was and how masterfully the dancer was conveying servitude and joyous supplication. Eavesdropping is generally bad, but in this case it served a higher purpose, because I was about to go find an usher and complain about the mime trying to steal an "invisible box" off the altar.
So, yes, interpretive dance is completely lost on me. But I still consider it a valid form of self-expression. (Or my friend would hurt me.) Dance forms the limit of my artistic sensibilities, however, and on the artistically insensible side of that limit is free-verse poetry.
Poetry in and of itself is a neat art form. I love words and I like ideas. The blending of the two can be really fun or sometimes powerful. As a writer, I'm also inordinately fond of prose. You would think that I wouldn't have an issue with free-verse poetry, since it's something of a hybrid between the two. But it seriously chaps my bootie. I have seen one, maybe two, good free-verse poems. They were pretty neat, but they included quite a bit of palindrome, echoed stanzas, and other devices that say the poet considered the words he or she was using. The rest of the genre, by and large, is an excuse for people to ramble on without any consideration of grammar.
I went to the store
bought a sack
It really chapped my
That's not a poem. Oh, sure, there are a dozen literature professors and beatniks out there saying, "That's what you think, honey, but it's people like you that threaten the individuality of every man, woman and small-breed dog across this mighty nation. It's the artistic expression of free-verse poets that keep communists and republicans from taking over this country and sending us all to work in the capitalistic, Siberian-based salt mines of Big Business." And they're probably right. But as I try to broaden my artistic horizons, I keep coming across what look like 50-150 word essays where the author just tossed in a line break every so often and then called it a poem. Toss in a break where you want to pause, okay. Put a word or phrase by itself where you want the reader to focus on it, fine. But for the love of all that's artistic and holy, people, quit writing short essays with nothing else to indicate that they are a poem except that there's a line break every tenth word! That's not a poem, that's a single column newspaper article. It burns me like the day after a trip to the all-you-can-eat salsa bar.
I know I'm in the wrong. I know it's a losing battle. I know this because I was reading one particularly offensive poem mind you, it would have made a simply beautiful essay that didn't even try to be poetic anywhere. The poem was called "Birches". By who? Robert "AAA" Frost (helping America pick the route with the least traffic guaranteed to make all the difference!). Tell him how he should have written a poem? I may as well try to tell Stephen Hawking how to plot a sine wave, or Bill Clinton how to pick up trashy women. He wins. I lose. It's that simple. But I can't get over it. Hence my conclusion that I am a Neanderthal. If I were the latest model of intelligent life, I'd probably be able to see for myself that free-verse is not, nine times out of ten, artistic laziness or a symptom of substance abuse.
So, in the spirit of evolution and artistic enlightenment, I've decided to try free-verse poetry myself. Starting now. See all those line breaks in the column above? I wanted them like that. Yeah.
Who's the poet now, Bobby? I got yer 'woods on a snowy evening' right here. Boo-yah.
This article originally appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.