I stopped going to open readings about twelve years ago for a combination of reasons, lack of time foremost among them, but coming up near second was the weariness of being subjected to a continuous stream of encrypted banality. What is most striking about this collection of generalities it doesn’t sound like anyone who has learned a useful lesson nor gained an insight to a problem-filled existence. If that were the case, the reader would have the sense that some fact, independent of the narrator’s expectations, has been acknowledged and that the speaker is ready to change their thinking. That is, one would have sensed that some growth has occurred. The sort of tract that many readers come across in airports and the shelves of bookstore self-help sections, though, resemble a poem less than they do knotted strings of re-fitted clichés that lacking the value of irony or circumstantial variation.
These are more things one would say after an accompanying string of disasters and disappointments that work not to comprehend experience and, perhaps, gain a perspective on why things don’t go according to plan, but rather to rationalize and reinforce one’s attitude and manner of moving through the world. When all is said and done, Frank Sinatra said the same thing, but with more style and less pop-psyche cant: I did it my way… Not that Sinatra’s croaking croon makes this a desirable way to go through life.We are who we, sure, but a large part of being human is our capacity to change our behavior based on experience. Existence is not something you experience passively or an event that merely happens to you. It is something you participate in. One is powerless in controlling final outcomes of events, but within the larger picture, which this poem attempts to present to us, we can change our actions, we can change the way we think. In doing so, we can, more often than not, influence the results one gets. Polson, I am afraid, is ruggedly defeatist here. She may be smarter than this poem lets on, but the stanza is a dumb, hackneyed sentiment. We’ve all had them at one time or another. Most of us grow out of them. We are who we, sure, but a large part of being human is our capacity to change our behavior based on experience. Existence is not something you experience passively or an event that merely happens to you. It is something you participate in. One is powerless in controlling final outcomes of events, but within the larger picture, which this poem attempts to present to us, we can change our actions, we can change the way we think. In doing so, we can, more often than not, influence the results one gets. Such poets come across as defeatists in a Hemingway ammo belt. Poetry is fun when it is good. This was not good.
Those who write poems, I think, are obliged to write the poems they are able to, whatever their style, and that they ought not to be surprised when they are criticized for using clichés and glittering generalities in place of real craft or inspiration. Introspection alone does make for any kind of poetry that seduces you into having a sit and staying with the page or pages until the poem (or poems )are finished, read again, contemplated, read again and gradually merged with the other noise-laden traffic that forms the walls of our considered cave. Whether the young poet admits it or not, they have a responsibility to express their inner lives in a fresh way that it’s interesting to readers in the outer world.
Small thoughts are perfectly fine, and one need only inspect Emily Dickinson or the imagist poems of Pound or WC Williams for examples. Even the “less than earth-shaking” poem has a bar to reach; it should none the less be exquisitely expressed. Those who participate in their lives are not passive, they are engaged with it. Even the shy, weak, infirm, modest and laconic among us take pro-active roles in the directions we take and take responsibility. Most of all, there is the capacity to remain teachable, to learn from experience and change behavior and mindset; this is what keeps people interesting and useful to their fellows. Those who refuse to change their ways, to use experience merely as a rationale to reinforce ineffective methods to coping with existence, are jerks much of the time, or just irredeemably clueless. One stays away from these people and their poems.