Thursday, February 22, 2024

all the tortured poets


A couple weeks back I was both a little excited and a little wary when I heard that TS's new album, coming in a mere two months referenced tortured poets in all their glory. The word "poetry" always feels strange out in the world of pop culture of mainstream news, when all of the sudden we look up from our tiny little desks and readership and everyone seems to be looking for us to have some sort of take or response. It happens every time there's a new poet laureate or during the Biden inauguration with Amanda Gorman's reading. Or poetry hits the news or magazines that people besides writers read.  Every time they talk about wildly successful insta-poets and how poetry is such a force. Mostly it feels this way because we've been here, stoking flames for decades, while only the occasional flame-up catches the world at large's attention. It's like people suddenly notice we exist, and yet at the same time, very much do not. 

I am excited to see what she does with it--this literary slant. I am suspicious of pop stars or musicians who write poetry. Not that they can't write good poems, just that they usually don't. Even amazing lyricists sometimes don't quite make that leap to good writing. The sort of things that make you a great songwriter might not mean you are a good poet. Earlier, I was listening to Amy Winehouse's "Black to Black" and the line--

And life is like a pipe
And I'm a tiny penny
Rolling up the walls inside

and it feels so much like poetry, as does much of her and songwriters like TS and Lana del Rey, but does it translate to the page, which always feels like its different rules and expectations. And yet it's funny because I feel like I am the poet I am because of listening to a lot of great female songwriters over the years, starting with Tori Amos in my early 20s. I always think about Jewel in the 90s, who was also a good songwriter, but her poems, while not absolutely terrible, were the sort of thing you wrote in your late teens, which was actually when she wrote them I suspect. We all wrote those poems. I think with a  few more years and some serious contemporary poet reading and she would have been a much stronger writer for the page. When her book came out in 1999, I was writing better poems than in my early 20s, but not the better poems I would write in the next couple of years that formed my own first book.

But then, I think what I am trying to free myself of is that ivory tower snobbiness of even having the audacity to say what is good poetry. What is crafted and what is shit. I certainly don't belong in that tower. And mostly feel like I have been sitting on the steps and occasionally knocking on the door. So who am I to deny or make judgments on who enters or exits. 

Of course, the question must be asked if we're tortured because we're poets, or poets because we're tortured? As for writers, especially poets, trying to fend your way in a world where most people are apathetic about those who create with words can make you feel a little tormented if not under duress exactly...

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