Thoughts on good and worthy poetry
Or a primer on how the Passage Prize will be judged.
"Any power struggle is preceded by a verification of images and iconoclasm. This is why we need poets– they initiate the overthrow" Ernst Jünger, Forest Passage
Firstly if you're reading this you likely submitted a poem to the Passage Prize. I am the judge for this years competition, replacing Curtis Yarvin.
You should stop right now and go buy a copy of my poetry collection that has been published by Imperium Press ideally from them or Amazon.
If you want people to write, read, and consume poetry again you have to start creating financial reasons for publishers to take poetry seriously. The journal I founded in 2018 has been self-funded and will remain so, but I do believe my book offers something to the burgeoning arts scene we have and you will enjoy it. Perhaps with the growth of poetry the journal will be able to move offline and into the real world.
Now onto some considerations of poetry. This essay will serve as an introduction to opinions I hold about poetry, what I like and don't and my thoughts on the nature of judging. A degree of transparency on offer to those who submitted their work.
On Telegram I posed a question to people without much context
Poetry as a form of esoterica
Poetry as common folklore
The vote split was decidedly towards folklore but what was this question all about?
To me it is about a split in how people primarily perceive poetry. Poetry has many faces but perhaps a main reason it has faded away from its once hallowed place is that it became too fart sniffing. It has trended towards what people think is a form of esoterica but is in fact nonsense or overly self masturbatory.
It serves as a basic launching pad into my thoughts on what makes good and worthy poetry. I'll break this into a few parts
Comprehension and technique - basic understanding is critical. To write is to release your thoughts to the world, one should be able to follow what you are writing about.
Purpose and meaning - Poetry should have a purpose, it should tell the reader something. What it is trying to tell can certainly influence opinion on if the poem is worthy.
Comprehension and techniques
If I read a poem and can't understand what it is about - you have written a bad poem.
It's that simple. A major failing of a poet is to think what he or she has written is genius and that others can follow their thinking through the poem. Not always the case.
It should be clear what you are writing about first and foremost. Is this poem about lost love, an homage to a meal, a reflection on architecture? All could be poetic subjects. Within poems allegory exists for a reason, not to make the reader confused or to try and play games with them, or to relay only personal experiences. (Personal poetry as a form of reflection could be valuable, but my advice is to keep it in your diary).
There certainly can be deeper exploration of meaning in a work. Some ambiguity is permissible - that can exist and I do not think this automatically makes a poem bad. That being said, to me poetry is not meant to primarily serve as some esoteric exercise. It is not to be a guarded art - that is in effect what a lot of self serving modern leftist deconstructed poetry is all about. It is no wonder people turn away from it. It didn't really become a form of esoterica under the left so much as near sighted myopia.
The simpler forms of poetry are often what we are introduced to as children, nursery rhymes. That rhyme is a fundamental part of poetry is a given, it is pleasing to us and makes us more likely to remember the poem. Metre runs a close second, whilst not occidental in origin the haiku is a rarity in that it represents both an esoteric edge in complexity but is usually simple enough for general appreciation.
Some time ago I became interested in playing with another technique that often graces poems - alliteration. The challenge in this exercise was to produce a poem that was meaningful, that relied upon alliteration, and ended before it became tiresome. My inspiration came from Guy Sajer's memoir "Forgotten Soldier":
Retreat from the East
A snow swept steppe
Blasted by Blitz-Krieg,
Broken by bombs
Lamenting Landsers limp
Across abandoned acreage.
Carrion caress carcasses
Men march morosely
Onwards only obliteration
They tremble together
Behind, Bolsheviks bellow
Faceless fearful foes
Hounding hopeless heroes
In this poem I was admittedly trying to be clever, to show off my understanding of language, and tell a compelling story. You can be the judge of if I pulled that off with this technique, but to me the alliteration lends itself to the slightly absurd nature of this conflict. The poem is understandable by almost everyone yet offers some (the initiate?) a bit of a deeper look, they can appreciate it on a deeper level.
Fundamentally I appreciate poems that display forms classical technique over those that do not, they should amplify the message expressed and accentuate the meaning strived for.
What of less conventional poetry forms- is free verse poetry? To me it is, it breaks from the more powerful forms of poetry but it is still an attempt to express something in a poetic fashion. That being said I don't buy the notion of 'prose-poetry'. I see this as a lazy bastardization of two genres and advise people to focus on one over the other.
What is the purpose of a poem? To attempt an answer we do need to ask what is the purpose of art? Entire essays and books have been written on the topic but I'll offer up something bite-sized that gets us a lot of the way there.
A key point of art is to express something about this world that is shareable with others.
Bad art is a poor execution of this. I have no idea what Paul Klee is trying to tell me with his blue jumbles, but is it still 'art'. He just failed in his attempt at passing on meaning.
A poem should serve a purpose - to express something about the world to others. To preserve a moment of beauty, examine an emotion, tell a story, reflect upon lost love. There are many purposes to a poem that make them worthy and many that make them pointless. A self indulgent reflective poem that has meaning about your life would likely fail to have wide spread comprehension, thus it is no good on a wider stage. It serves too few.
Insults as poems often become limericks, and they are funny. Well rhymed political screeds may be a poem and truer to form than some stilted free verse but good technique that does not automatically impart value. One reason we still appreciate older love poetry from the likes of John Donne is it has a timeless element to it. A lot of modern grievance poetry is too self indulgent, the wokeness ideas of 'elevating' non-white voices amount to pointless bitching from outsiders sold under the guise of fake empathy. They inject narrative constantly and in truth require the reader to be indoctrinated in their belief systems, even then the poems are awful. For a deeper dive I will simply link this takedown by Clarence Caudell
Such poetry of the kind Clarence looks at won't stand the test of time ever as good poetry, it will just exist as part of the historical record of this time of madness. Those on our side of the great divide can fall victim to this. Art can be political and be good art but in some ways poetry, with the timeless factor it has is not always best suited, unless of course there is an attempt to reach at deeper truths within that poem. The resentful nature of the leftist untermensch is always going to exist and tackling that could be fruitful.
Poetry must have purpose for it to be considered good. That purpose need not necessarily be a grandiose one, a poem about a single flower could be as nice as a poem about the nature of springtime. Poetry should elevate where possible If it leverages poetic technique, as discussed before, it must aid. Limerick's with their simply structure and rhyming pattern lend themselves to easy memory and pleasing delivery. The insult taken to a new level. This combination of purpose and technique bridges a gap from the inane to the meaningful.
What of Judging then?
All right thinking men, and women, rely on instinct. They use it to form their opinions and not to overthink certain positions. We feel disgust at the correct things to be disgusted by, our hearts swell with emotion and pride when we see greatness, we instinctively understand what justice means. There is an innate truth present and we acknowledge it.
I am no different, I rely on instinct a lot, we all do. We develop our instincts and hone them. For me poetry is subject to that same law of instinct. I am drawn to what speaks to me. For judging Passage Prize this will be no easy task but for those actually interested, unlike Yarvin, I have judged my own poetry contest. It was very difficult and it was thematic - you can read about it and my thoughts on the three poems selected here.
Ultimately people are going to be upset, we all think our poems are good! Though with more distance I look back on some I've written with what amounts to almost disdain...There is a subjective element that is going to be present, I prefer a style and flavor of poetry slightly different to others. Naturally it is likely to reflect elements of my own writing, it would be foolish to think otherwise. There is no true neutrality of judgement.
One form of evaluation I will note that I use is to read the poems aloud - poetry after all is meant to be a living tradition orally delivered. In my own offline life on hunting trips I have often read poetry to my friends, selecting from whatever book I am reading at the time and on occasion my own. The real power of a poem can truly be felt when read aloud so that is something I will be doing as I narrow down the judging.
Rewilding was the theme of Passage Prize and I will keep an ear open towards poems that I think sing towards that theme. If I were to have been submitting as I was last time then perhaps I would have submitted this poem as I think it reaches towards the theme quite well:
The Green Man and the Wild Man
I am of the wind and the trees
Haunting your lands for you are gone
Away to where none knows not
Your eternal greenery withers
Abandoned once you left the trees
Choking on cities fumes
The wind, dies down.
For I am the essence of this place
As sure as the seas do crash
Upon the ancient shores of memory.
I am of the rivers and hills
Slipping away down the streams
A fair maidens hand outward reach
The mere, the loch, the llyn
Upon the mountains I watch as that ancient
King does grasp the Sword.
But it only glimmers there
Just light and shimmers
It fades out of essence
I am of the wind and the trees
Haunting your lands for you are gone…
I like poetry that is robust and has meaning. It should have emotional resonance. The poem should have a clear purpose in what it attempts to convey about the world. It should not rely on excessive abstract intentions. The poem should be easily comprehensible. Allegorical references should be understood and serve to further the poems purpose. Techniques that serve to keep the meaning alive with the reader after they have finished with it are important and elevate a poem.
Thanks for reading.