Lessons from Bad Poetry
In June's highlight reel of 'YouTube content I've binged this month', I've watched all of Rachel Oates' reviews of Gabbie Hanna's poetry.
If you've never heard of Gabbie Hanna, she's a YouTuber (that's all you really need to know, to be honest). And like many successful YouTubers, she has expanded her creativity beyond the video-hosting platform and into the worlds of music and poetry.
The problem is, Gabbie's poetry isn't good.
I don't think that's a controversial statement - before I'd even watched any reviews of her poetry collections, "Adultolescence" and "Dandelion", I knew by some unspoken, digital understanding that it was bad.
But you know what they say: everyday's a school day. And in Rachel's critical dissection of these works, I learnt some things. Not only about poetic pitfalls, but also some internet literary jargon.
So if you're a budding poet, here are some things to keep in mind.
1) If your poem is an underdeveloped idea, it's not a poem - it's a 'shower thought'
Have you ever read a poem, usually on Instagram, almost definitely in a typewriter serif font, and thought, "yeah, that's so true!" and then, a split second later, "that's really obvious..."?
That, my friend, is a 'shower thought'.
I've followed so many accounts that do this and not had words for why I found these poems so disappointing. And there's a place for shower thoughts, don't get me wrong. But, as a reader, when I'm looking for a poem, they leave me feeling unsatisfied. And as a writer, shower thoughts often don't convey anything new, or insightful, or fun and silly.
2) Illustrations can add to a poem, if they make sense together
Poetry can be a crossroads of literature and visual art. The composition of a poem on the page can imbue it with an extra layer of meaning. And that's where illustrations can come in.
But illustrations for illustrations sake can be a sign of page filler. Does the illustration add extra meaning (and does that meaning make sense), or is it there because the poem doesn't hold the page on its own?
If it's the latter, maybe that poem shouldn't be in your collection in the first place...
3) A sentence with line breaks isn't a poem, no matter how aesthetic it looks
This is related to the shower thoughts point. The fashion, especially with 'Tumbr Poetry' or 'Instagram Poetry' is to write short poems of a single stanza, made up of a handful of short lines.
And I'll admit, I have fallen into the trap of this layout when editing my own work.
However, even for a concise poem, there should be attention paid to rhythm, rhyme, metre, imagery - even if you break the rules, it ideally should be conscious. And when you write a sentence, the rules of poetry don't really come into play.
up a sentence
- a poem.
4) Knowing the names of poetic devises doesn't make you a poet
This, I think, is my personal Achilles heal. Do I know the difference between a simile and a metaphor? Can I recognise enjambement? Can I distinguish verse and prose? Point out a perfect iamb? Of course.
Does that mean I can use those devices to give specific and intentional meaning to the written word? Not necessarily, although I do try.
I can name the major features of the human heart. Doesn't mean you want me to perform your triple bypass surgery.
5) Laziness is the death of poetry
This is a paraphrased observation from Stephen Fry's "The Ode Less Travelled", which is currently sitting on the arm of my sofa, newly purchased and, as yet, unread. And it really does sum up the previous points.
In an age where we've grown accustomed to the instant gratification of likes and follows, deliveroo deliveries and on-demand streaming, it's unsurprising that we're lured by the easily plumbed depths of the shower though, bashed by the brutal hammer of the enter key into a hashtag aesthetic, Instagramable post, with a cute line drawing for extra measure.
It feels almost insulting that a literary art that's so comparably short in form (I mean, one poem is hardly "A Hundred Years of Solitude", is it) can take so much work.
But to do it right, it does. And anything worth doing is worth doing well. Well, as well as you can at least.
So, with that in mind, I'm off to read "The Ode Less Travelled". Maybe I can turn my own shower thoughts into something a little deeper. A collection of bath thoughts, perhaps...