What makes boring poetry boring?

Posted by @ 5:39 pm on September 12th, 2014

I posted this question on facebook: ‘What makes boring poetry boring?’

People responded with a variety of reasons: no imagination, using tired techniques, failure to innovate, failure to obscure, the smack of phoniness, being too safe, being edgy for the sake of being edgy, cliches, the culture of commodification, not making an emotional connection. All of these make sense. All of these are different.

Boring is subjective. I dunno.

I was thinking about Alice Notley, how I was a fan of her work until I heard her read. I mean. I still like her written work, but I was not impressed with her performance and it changed how I feel about the work in toto.

Going to the reading felt like a special occasion. My friend invited me last minute, I didn’t know it was happening, we had just been hanging out and drinking coffee in her apartment, and it felt serendipitous. Like a special occasion, like a dinner party or something. Like we were going to sit at the grownups table. I remember being excited getting ready to leave for the event, rolling a spliff for the walk to the bus stop, feeling lucky I had brought my copy of Mysteries of Small Houses, a book I had already been carrying around for the past few weeks, hoping that I could get Notley to sign it after the show. It was cold and raining as we walked to the bus stop. One of the last times I remember it raining in the city.

So we got there. So Notley read.

After about 40 minutes sitting on a bench inside an auditorium I had had enough. My butt was hurting. I was bored, or at least I thought Notley’s delivery was boring and I just wanted it to be over. No one else in the audience at this particular reading in San Francisco seemed to agree with me. Everyone seemed captivated. I kept drifting off into daydreams, but my fantasies were interrupted by an older woman, supposedly suffering from dementia (or maybe she was just punk as fuck), who loudly shouted out ‘Is this over yet?‘ to her son videotaping the reading (who apparently videotapes a lot of readings but never posts or shows the finished product to anyone).

I was like, ‘hell yeah!’ and in my mind gave the older woman a high-five. This outburst, however, prompted Notley to pause her poem for a moment to say ‘fuck off’ to the older woman, drawing cheers from the audience.

I thought it was pretty corny that telling an old woman to ‘fuck off’ got such a positive response, particularly because I thought it was awesome that the older woman said pretty much exactly what I had been thinking, but it just goes to show that two women’s ‘boring’ can be the rest of the audience’s ‘totally captivating experience.’ Art is subjective. Duh. But it is interesting to unpack why we choose to consume the things we do, and what makes them appealing to us.

I liked Notley’s work before I heard her read because I was reading her poems in my head the way that I thought they should be read, and when I did hear her read the reading did not match up with or exceed my expectations and my preconceived notions of what a Notley poem sounded like. Which kind of makes the work even more intriguing, even if I found the performance to be lacking. Performance is just one aspect of a poem’s poetry. I think it’s an important one, but not all poetry is this way.

I was planning on this post to just be a snippet, but it feels longer than that now, so let’s call this ‘craft notes.’

What makes a boring poem boring? The question isn’t if it’s good or bad, but if it’s boring. Less of a judgment and more of an opinion. Anything that can be consumed can and should be qualified, even if that qualification is personal and not widely shared by others. My boring is your ‘fuck yes.’ Your boring is my favorite Smashing Pumpkins album. Whatever.