In the podcast we focus mainly on that flowery, angsty, cringe-inducing darkside of poetry: the awkward teen years. Oh, those bleak years when every young poet tries to out-Howl Ginsberg and make Plath seem like the leader of the glee club. And if they’re really on a roll, they try to do both at the same time. High school yearbooks are full of these dubious verses.
But there’s more to poetry than heavy-handed metaphors and self-loathing. There are pockets of sublime revelation to be found buried in the filth as well. As with most art, there’s more bad than good in the world. Bad poetry is perhaps the most painful of all art forms. So finding those few sublime moments—even within the oeuvre of a celebrated poet—can be a daunting and painful task.
Reading, or listening to, a truly bad poem can be entertaining in and of itself. But like great poems, the truly bad are hard to come by. At worst, and this is the majority, a poem is mediocre. Many odes and lyrics are simply boring and express poorly a thought or observation that didn’t really need to be expressed at all. Sometimes, though the words melt together nicely, it is impossible to even discern what is being expressed.
An example of the sublime, “As I Walked Out One Evening” by that delightful old dandy, W.H. Auden.
Nearly every time I’ve read this poem, I’ve gotten shivers. It expresses in words what mere words cannot express. The ironies of life, the glories and tragedies of love, the ineffable battle with time we all must fight in our own way, are all revealed between the syllables of the narrator’s nocturnal stroll.