Two Open Letters to Contemporary Poetry

Monsieur le Caire,

It must be sudden seeing this letter, no less in a section dedicated to contemporary poetry. But I vividly remember reading the poems you published on Facebook five years ago, and you’re still at it. Everybody apparently liked them, and so you became the renowned poet of our year.

Perhaps I was jealous, but now I have moved onto much more complex emotions than that. Yet, I noted that there was something inherently superficial about your poetry. It was universally applicable to ridiculous degrees. It was art that meant to appeal and to be relatable. Yet I would not clarify it as ‘popular art’, as it was targeted primarily towards peers from our immediate social context.

I must clarify the following: to my understanding and belief, art is like nature. This means to imply that its absence means its presence. It might be the case that one fails to find merit or value in a work, but that does not suggest it is not art.

That said, I did feel an inexplicable indignation at your publications. So much so that I wrote a poem called ‘Contemporary Times‘ to express my frustration.

It would seem, however, that your literary career is also more advanced than mine. A blog of the name ‘Beyond the Covers’ has published your works (also apparently in a homonymous newspaper). Additionally, you have published five books (yes, five books!). Tant pis all of them are about 30 pages regarding financial advice and not one of them is literature of artistic pretence. Here are three examples, titles translated on purpose:

  • Comment postuler à, être approuvé et travailler votre job de rêve: conseilles et astuces pour atteintre votre salaire
  • Le marché financier: la route de l’enfer au paradis
  • Le problème : « J’en veux ! »

It really seems to me you treat your work as a stepping stone for social and personal gain, not as the end goal but as a means towards one. I would like to stress this does not imply your poetry is not ‘art’, but my appreciation of it (as well as everyone else’s, in my opinion) should not be very high.

Death to the author!” Barthes aggressively whispers in echoes throughout time. But here my criticism is not of the author; I am not mistaking art for the artist. My judgement of the author came from the opposite direction – I saw the work, then I saw the character.

So now a fair proposition would arise: display one of the poems and explain why it fails as an aesthetic project. However, I would have to show a translation (which I myself would have to do), and in that act I will inevitably re-poeticise the piece.

This phenomenon deserves a post on its own, but the bottom line remains the same – it will ultimately be a misrepresentation of your work.

Thank you for your time and attention.


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7 thoughts on “Two Open Letters to Contemporary Poetry

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  1. Thank you for writing these letters, they truly made me think and provoked a strong reaction, whereby I understood my own true opinion about the matter. First of all, this mentality creates the illusion that today’s society is a conglomerate of brainwashed simpletons who swallow everything that comes their way, fast-food-like. If ever I saw a cliché, this is one. I refuse this perspective because, to me, it is so very reductive, oversimplified and cynical, there is nothing helpful or original about it. I mean absolutely no offense by this. I just think if one opens their eyes wider and attempts an in-depth look at our society, needs, and cravings, one would realize that often there is a huge lack of beauty, human connection and meaning that we attempt to fill with quick consumption. We are often just hungry for real things, genuine feelings and simple pleasures but we are not blind to beauty. There is, hence, SO much worth to be gained from tiny drawings, potentially recycled words and images, so much healing potential, so much joy, and opportunities to bring some sparks of art into our burned out heads and stressful days. I don’t have the time, and neither do most people, to read a 200 stanza poem the like of ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ on a blog, and I won’t spend years of my life to write anything at all according to outdated aesthetic rules. That said, I would never judge you for not doing this either, but you may as well choose to do it and that is perfectly fine, too. We no longer live in the 19th century and that is a good thing. We have the freedom of form. Do you know how incredible that is? It means that the essence of our poem can be put out there in the simplest sugary drop, that it could warm someone’s heart in a heartbeat, and we cannot deny anyone this power on account of two hundred year old rules.

    On a side note, rupi kaur is dear to me, because she found her voice in a flash-like manner. That is what her poetry signifies to me – flickers of experience, seconds of pain, love and change. Because that is, ultimately, what life is, in my opinion. A collection of old and new instants that mark us, and that we keep revisiting or learn to let go. She recovered from sexual abuse through the means of simple, heartfelt words and drawings. She is not aspiring to impress the likes of us, she is simply being her authentic self, and sharing that with the world.
    To say progress is responsible for regression is just what people have been saying from Ancient Greece onwards. Every generation goes back and forth, forever hating their youngsters and believing that the world is going to the dogs, that new things are so much worse that those from the golden years of yore…But progress is about people doing something different, seeing the world in a new perspective, not doing old things all over again. It is about innovation, about reinventing one’s society, tastes and habits, and it carries a lot of potential with it. Hence, what is wrong with someone doing something new?

    And secondly, what is wrong with relatable art? In fact, I dare say that the main purpose of art is for us to recognize ourselves in it. What is wrong with popular art? Are we going to pretend that widely appreciated works are all worthless because they are simple enough for the masses to comprehend? Who do you want to be read by? Who will be excluded? And better yet, are we going to blame a guy whose day-job is something matter-of-fact, yet who writes poetry in his spare time? What is to blame about that? The fewest of us can be full-time poets. Also, probably the most of us on this platform would understand French. You could attempt to discuss what you found lacking in his poem without translating or changing anything?

    Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate both your work, your thoughtfulness, and I support what you do. It takes a lot of courage to be so earnest and put your poetry out there for the world to read. However, I see no reason to dismiss modern poetry as a whole, or even individuals whose work may not correspond to your taste. The world is full of poets that we haven’t explored yet, fresh, fantastic voices waiting to be heard. One can admire those one loves, and learn from the other ones. Let us not get hung up on fears that poetry will cease to be, and let us look forward with positivity, an open spirit, and admiration for all those who dare play with words and reach others with their creations. (And honestly, have you ever tasted milk sweetened with honey? It is damn delicious.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m happy you disagree! I must admit you offer a perspective I have not considered. I have no intentions of arguing the opposite of the points you have drawn towards Davide’s letter, but here I offer regarding mine:

      It is not worth critizing art for its relatability, I believe, but it is worth being mindful of its intended audience; and sometimes people make their work targeted to an extent where it feels ingenuine, to a point where it perhaps even becomes such.

      “I want to write a poem to seduce/impress someone!” is not a morally corrupt or fundamentally unjustified endeavour, but the product could come across as essentially superficial. I would even argue that it does become superficial, as it is a text meant to manifest first in the eyes of an Other, not in the eyes of the Self (the writer).

      An obvious objection is to be had here: Byron, Shelley and the like wrote knowing full well their works would be published; they did in a sense write for another, not for themselves. While that may be the case, their writings succeed in their aesthetic (a point worth arguing over, but let us take it for granted) by masking this overt address.

      Pardon my non-literary example, but let me offer an instnace of the opposite: ’17 Again’ is a film whose target audience were teenage girls. Zac Efron was the lead star and the plot revolved around romance, highschool, life after graduation and other issues which would be considered a concern or of interest for a teenager.

      Source?: the weird stares I got from all the mid-/late-teen girls at the movie theatre when I was walking up to my seat with my dad. I was ten at the time.

      Conversely, consider the following: poetry, as you suggest, encompasses ‘flickers of experience, seconds of pain love and change’. Then what if these were all meant to be theatrically reproduced in a fashion that is far from genuine? I would like to think I could find an objective way of proving this, but this is perhaps impossible. And even if it were, I have already highlighted the issue of translation.

      The person’s work is in Bulgarian (atleast that which I have access to); if it were in French or English, even Spanish, I would have no problem dissecting it. But perhaps I might take it as an example sometime to demonstrate how translation changes its quality.

      I would like to emphasize that I am not applying this observation to anyone but ‘monsieur le Caire’, though applicable it may be to others as well – I know not, for I know them not personally. Additionally, while I defend my views, I once again note that this does not unqualify their production as a work of ‘art’, or question their validity as a poet.

      That said, if art criticism is brought to the table, I must stake the claim that it is not of particularly high merit. This absolutely does not imply it is unworthy of analysis. Quite the contrary, one must exemplify the “bad” to deduce the “good”. While I fully admit that this is my subjective experience, I nonetheless try to justify it in an effort to edify and enrich, not censor nor discourage.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I partially agree with you. The problem I have with Rupi Kaur is not Rupi Kaur per se, but the way her works are building a culture filled with, as Davide would say, simple non-bangers. Obviously, her works show a deep understanding of personal feelings and experience, which are worth sharing, and she does this in a particular way. A way, as you mentioned; ‘a flash-like manner. That is what her poetry signifies to me – flickers of experience, seconds of pain, love and change.’

      However, a few verses for a poem, does that not entice a certain simplicity? A simplicity that could inspire further ‘writers’ to emulate this practice, watering down the essence of a poem (in my opinion). Here, the quality would be lost in the quantity, standardizing neglect and superficiality, which again portrays this vile importance of consumerism in our society. We rather have mediocre stuff fast than wait for quality (I often find myself in the same position). Just the fact that I’ve seen the book in several ‘Urban Outfitters’ gives me the shivers, for there is not store more superficial.

      Subsequently, Rupi Kaur is a women of art, there is no doubt. What I fear most, and I think this is what Davide tried to convey, is that this art form will be abused, resulting in the loss of poem quality. Milk sweetened with honey is, indeed, delicious. Nevertheless, no matter how much honey one uses, it will never save sour milk.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think the lack of personality I portrayed in this might undermine my argument. I have no issue whatsoever with it and I give the concept behind it its due respect. This essay is, in sort, a self-critical one. I said ” I might come off as riding a high horse, I would like to point out that we are to blame! Yes we, all of us that write.” I looked at it from a writers perspective. We should also push our art more, hence this blog I suppose(?)
    Furthermore,I pointed out that these people are indeed interested in general arts to different extents. There is definitely a difference between tastes but that is besides the point.

    My expression might be lacking at times. I just used the reference to address people that criticize to a negative extent. Whilst I openly say that I dislike the form and aesthetic behind it, I wouldn’t criticize art people for doing art. I really like the sentiment behind her works no doubt. I even wrote: “I might come off as riding a high horse, ” to avoid the sensation of coming of like a . .

    Either way, same vision like you I hope I made it clear enough that I am super excited and happy to see the engagement we had. I think Flame is probably happy aswell.

    I hope this 3 am phone reply is understandable in any measurable form.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I realize, of course, that our enjoyment and understanding of art is extremely subjective. Thus, everyone should be free to enjoy whetever type of poetry they want without judgement. But I also thought you seemed to attribute certain trends in poetry with a general failure of people’s minds or characters. Or rather, their general lack of appreciation for what you consider to be art. I just seeked to demonstrate why I thought this is not the case. Anyhow, thank you for your super quick and thoughtful reply ^^


  4. Thank you all again for the engagement you have shown with my comment, it means a lot to be able to have respectful debates on the internet 😉
    I won’t argue though, since I have said most of what I wanted to say. I am back just to clarify one point I have not properly mentioned. Namely, the historical aspect of this debate. We all know how prevalent the ‘What is art?’ debate is, right? What if certain artists do really simple things and it gets portrayed and popularized as art? What if their work gets sold in undignified chainstores? Does this availability and openness, and the possibility for everyone to become a writer or own a piece of ‘art’, create more bad writers, more content and less substance? Does it ruin anything? Well, actually, that is a fallacy in my opinion, because the more bad writers also means more good writers can emerge, as they now have an easier time than ever doing so.
    I think these fears of quality loss arise from the sense of being inconsequential. The moment art opens up to this extent, and anything can count as potentially valuable creations, what then? How do we know whether we have good taste or not? Fearing that art will be diluted or dying is, in my opinion, simply disregarding that every age had massive amounts of, now unknown, ‘bad’ as well as ‘good’ artists, and changes in standards of every sort. But if nowadays everyone can be an artist, then how is that role still special? Hence the need for sticking to standards and rules.
    I am not denying that some poetry can potentially be ‘bad’, redundant or unoriginal. I am just saying that even banal, common metaphors and associations can be used in a novel way and/or make people happy or be extremely enjoyable. You may have a point in saying that it is hard to find worthwhile content in this world of massive possibilities and endless amounts of fast-paced content. However, you do not have a point if you are saying that contemporary poetry is going to the dogs.
    I believe trends in the art world have always come and gone as they do now and as they will again. So what is left for us all to do (I think) is to be the best we can be without lamenting the state of the world. Be the change you want to see, and all that 😡 What I mean is, there is room for everyone in this day and age, but that really doesn’t have to be interpreted as a bad thing.
    Thanks for the interesting discussions and looking forward to more content!

    Liked by 2 people

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