As I published the previous post, I could just hear the groans that would come from readers, "She calls that poetry?" I've been criticized for writing in rhyme since I took my one and only undergraduate creative writing class. The professor was not impressed when I showed him that my light verse had already been published in a national magazine and placed in poetry competition while I was still a teenager. He didn't call my work "poetry." He called
it "didactic versification"--just and academic way of saying "bad."
I am honored to be placed in the same category as other "bad" poets such as Rudjard Kipling who wrote:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
(“You’ll be your own person”—my adaptation for us, ladies)
And then there is that other “bad” poet, John Milton, who wrote:
On His Blindness
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
One of the poems in this genre that you probably have not read unless you are a member of my family or live in an Arbor is the following poem that I submitted
to a writing competition that the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living conducted:
The word “impossible” is just a tease
to those who would advance by great degrees
beyond the logic of a static state.
And “challenge” is a game they love to play
to keep away the boredom of each day
which comes to sneer at all they formulate.
A “problem” is a chance to break the rules
by working with imaginary tools
While lesser men just shake their heads and wait.
The miracles of life playfully come
to those who look beyond this world to some
much higher call that says to them, “Create.”
(Bourrie, Susan. "Miracle Moment" The Fulcrum. Ann Arbor, MI:
Center for Independent Living, Nov. 1991.)
You can find “If” and “On His Blindness” online at Wikipedia. If you look up “If” online, you will find scathing criticism of Kipling’s poem
by famous poets and scholars who call this work and others in this style Stoic, inspirational, and motivational as if these were bad things. I can tell
you from personal experience that people who need to heal, who need to be healed, and even those who are the healers need to be inspired, motivated, and stoical. My poem, “Miracle Moment,” was written During one of the lowest times in my life. I wrote it to motivate me to do the impossible, get out of bed in the morning. It worked; but much later when I was hit hard with discrimination during my job search and ended up on welfare, I was not happy to have this poem staring me in the face. I wished I had never written it. I did not want to get up again. Life was impossible. If I didn’t get up again, I would be a hypocrite, so I showed up at the door
of a Jesuit priest and learned that doing the impossible begins with just one goal each day.
Before you begin the adventure of a new day, you must have hope. “Bad” poetry gives hope, especially when the words are combined with music. So when you need to “Climb Every Mountain,” “Put on a Happy Face,” or say “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be)” because “Raindrops Keep Fallin’” on your head, go find some “bad” poetry—or even better—write some.