Confessions of an Elitist
I posted much of this as a comment on livingcode, but I want to blog it here as well because it's a big issue that I struggle with constantly -- and I've already settled the big cosmological issues to my satisfaction and have no more to add to the various blogposts that have been out there over the past week or so.
I am always at war with myself about feeling like an elitist when it comes to "art" forms, because for me, in order for a work to be a good poem, or a good painting, or a good novel, or a good performance, it has to combine both powerful creative expression and careful, precise CRAFTING. Creative expression is good, meaningful, cathartic -- but, IMHO, not necessarily crafted well enough to be considered "art." I have had lengthy arguments with my dearest friend who is an expressive arts therapist about what is art and what is not. We have yet to agree. A former lover of mine writes clever verse. I see a very clear distinction between verse and poetry as well. And I'm not trying to say that I'm a great poet, although I have written some good stuff that has been published by others.
Lyn Lifshin, a prolific poet I used to know when she lived in my region, once said that if you feel that you've been punched in the stomach, then you know it's art. Go to her site and read some of her poetry and you'll understand what she means, although her most powerful ones are not necessarily on her site.
So when is a poem a really good poem? I guess it depends on whether by "good poem" you mean good "art" or just "inspiring message" or some other definition that ignores the carefully wraught details of the "craft." For most people, it doesn't matter. Maybe I just can't shake all those years of both studying and teaching the processes of creative writing -- and reading lines like Theodore Roethke's "Near the graves of the great dead,/even the stones speak."