Friday, April 25, 2014

Bad Poetry 2: "Indiana"

Returning from Chicago to the Crossroads of America (presumably called so because the only reason you'd enter it is to go to somewhere else), I discovered-- or rather my girlfriend did-- that Indiana has a State Beverage (wait for it . . . Water!) and a State Firearm (Grouseland Rifle). This spurred me to further, um, investigation.

While it's not one of the few states badass enough to boast an official State Dinosaur, it does have a State Poem, and it is a Bad Poem indeed. I present to you "Indiana" by Arthur Franklin Mapes.

God crowned her hills with beauty,
Gave her lakes and winding streams,
Then He edged them all with woodlands
As the setting for our dreams.
Lovely are her moonlit rivers,
Shadowed by the sycamores,
Where the fragrant winds of Summer
Play along the willowed shores.
I must roam those wooded hillsides,
I must heed the native call,
For a pagan voice within me
Seems to answer to it all.
I must walk where squirrels scamper
Down a rustic old rail fence,
Where a choir of birds is singing
In the woodland . . . green and dense.
I must learn more of my homeland
For it's paradise to me,
There's no haven quite as peaceful,
There's no place I'd rather be.
Indiana . . . is a garden
Where the seeds of peace have grown,
Where each tree, and vine, and flower
Has a beauty . . . all its own.
Lovely are the fields and meadows,
That reach out to hills that rise
Where the dreamy Wabash River
Wanders on . . . through paradise.
This is a crap poem for several reasons: the inexplicable ellipses, the profusion of clichés, the recourse to the most obvious filler words to complete the meter, hell the meter itself, which resists even the more liberal systems of scansion.

Who, when s/he hears the word "Indiana," is not invaded by mental images of "moonlit rivers,"  "willowed shores," and "wooded islands"? Who has not experienced the "fragrant winds" of Gary?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Bad" Poetry

If an art is to be estimated by its success, I appeal to experience whether there have not been, in proportion to their number, as many starving good poets as bad ones? 
-- Alexander Pope,  "Peri Bathos"

Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation-- not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism. . . . What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures. 
-- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

I was going to scrawl an intro of sorts on the aesthetics of so-bad-its-good art, but I won't waste valuable time that could be spent reading some gloriously bad poetry. "What is bad?" the more contrarian reader might ask. In response to such inquisitive spirits, I'll borrow a few words from the great Rudolf Otto:
The reader is invited to direct their mind to a moment of deeply-felt experience of bad poetry,* as little as possible qualified by other forms of consciousness. Whoever cannot do this, whoever knows no such moments in his experience, is requested to read no further. I 
*religiös Erregheit, which some hyper-literal translators might render as "religious psychology."

Anyway, today's Bad Poem is brought to you by the Dull 15th Century. Above all, it is an exercise in extreme subtlety-- realizing tout son sens only in the final stanza.

I have a gentil cok,
Crowyt me day*              [Crows for me when it's daytime];
He doth me rysyn erly*            [arise me early],
My matyins for to say. 
I have a gentil cok,
Comyn he is of gret               [He comes from a noble family];
His comb is of reed corel,*               [red coral]
His tayil [tail] is of get [black]. 
I have a gentyl cok,
Comyn he is of kynde [He is of good birth];
His comb is of red corel,
His tayl is of inde  [indigo] 
His legges ben [are] of asor [azure],
So gentil and so smale;
His spores arn of sylver qwyt,*               [bright silver]
Into the wortewale.*                [up to the root]
His eynyn [eyes] arn of cristal,
Lokyn [set] al in aumbyr [amber];
And every nyght he perchit hym     [perches]
In myn ladyis chaumbyr.