The Need for Lunchtime Poetry

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I was curious to know the difference between good poetry and my poetry. There was Wallace Stevens and there was me. There was Rilke and there was me. For that matter there was Michael Stipe and there was me. The list seemed endless.

A friend of mine suggested that some poets are deep thinkers and some are not. This made sense to me. Like there is frying pan poetry and there is crock pot poetry. To pursue this comparison I took out all my thoughts, spread them into a crock pot, and discovered they barely covered the bottom.
By morning even these had mostly evaporated, but, lo and behold, crusting along the edges of the pot was this manifesto:

Good poetry should be short, and easy to follow.
People barely have half an hour for lunch and often don’t get home from work until after six. When they do get home, their families expect them to dole out “quality time.” who has the time to read An Ordinary Evening in New Haven, or the patience to decipher The Wasteland.
A poem should be something you can read while waiting for lunch and that you won’t get indigestion trying to understand.

Modern poetry is too elitist. If you are reading the kind of poem that graduate students would only read for a class assignment, and only talk about to impress their dates, it isn’t worth the trouble.
Poetry shouldn’t have to be decoded. When people find that C++ is easier to read than poetry, something is fucked.

On the other hand, poetry should have some standards. Not only is Listen to the Warm bad poetry, it is impossible to do. So let me offer a few suggestions to keep poetry in its proper perspective:

Fucking is better than poetry. But reading a poem about fucking is better than reading Penthouse.

Eating is better than poetry, except when you’re eating Big Macs.

Sleeping is better than poetry. Countless poetry readings have proved this.

Earning money is better than writing poetry unless you can earn money by writing poems. That is why so many people work, and so few people write poetry.

Poetry is better than smoking, but far less habit forming.

Poetry should have better politics than Presidents who wear pompadours.

Exploding the Myths

So the next time you go to a poetry reading and feel you were the only one who missed out on the joke, just keep the following things in mind:

Bruce Springsteen, contrary to popular belief, is not a poet. But you can understand his lyrics without buying Cliff’s Notes.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is about a guy who’s too timid to come onto his date, and not about existential dread.

The only people who like the poems assigned in English classes tend to be the English teachers, which says far worse things about our educational system than it does about poetry.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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