Orson Scott Card: Elitist Poetry Grinch

6 Apr

When Daniel sent me an e-mail saying, “I’m guessing this will piss you off. Possible blog fodder, though,” (that’s verbatim folks) I should have known better.

I should have set it aside for another day when I was ready to write about it, take my time and think it out. Instead, I’m posting this. Which, I admit, will go up sooner than it should and not be as refined as I like but, right now? I just need to say something.

Orson Scott Card is an elitist @$$hole grinch, at least about poetry. His views also show him to be an essentialist, under-informed, out-of-date and out-of-touch. Which wouldn’t really matter if he hadn’t decided to write an article titled “What Is Good Poetry, and When Did It Die?

Let’s just take a look at his first few paragraphs, shall we?

April has long been designated as “Poetry Month,” though I imagine this passes most people by without attracting any more attention than if it were designated Popsicle Month.

This is no surprise: Academic-literary poetry has long since become mostly encrypted and anti-poetic, which is how it’s generally taught in the public schools.

Teachers these days don’t even try to teach meter and rhyme; usually, if they try to get kids to create poetry at all, they resort to haiku, a poetic form designed for another language, without any particular grace in English; or “slam poetry” that is little more than an unconstructed gush of emotion — rather as if throwing up were an art form.

And he gets to choose who he wishes to publish on his journal, so why does he even bother writing a whole blog post that undermines what he does? Oh, because he thinks he knows better than any of us mere mortals, clearly.

Let’s take a step back. The only thing I’ve ever read by “Uncle Orson,” as this article refers to him as, is a few issues of his run on Ultimate Iron Man. I am, however, familiar with the Ender’s Game series from my many many friends who have read and loved it. So, I recognize that this man isn’t an idiot. Which makes this worse.

Let’s go back and look at the points he makes…

  1. Poetry Month matters as much to people as popsicles. (More offensive to poetry or popsicles, you decide.)
  2. He doesn’t understand poetry or how it’s taught. (I’ll be generous and suggest he pick up a textbook on poetry, Ed Hirsch’s How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, is fabulous!)
  3. How does he know teachers don’t teach meter or rhyme? I’m in the process of taking my second class on formal poetry that has spent weeks looking at meter AND rhyme. This isn’t just because I’m in an MFA program, my under-graduate teacher assigned formal poems all the time.
  4. Insulting Slam Poetry as “little more than an unconstructed gush of emotion” comparing it to “throwing up” is not only elitist and classist, it is also possibly racist and just plain ignorant.

In short, this man has NO CLUE what he’s talking about. It’s to the degree where, despite my anger that such a well-known and supposedly intelligent individual would say all of these, I almost feel bad for him. However, for those of us who actually exist in the world of Contemporary creative writing (contemporary being thus capitalized as to make a point), this is like kicking a dog when it’s down.

Let’s alter that metaphor, this is kicking a sick puppy and telling it that it would be healthy if it wasn’t trying to grow up so darn much. Instead, try and be like those other dogs that are old and getting ready to die.

Poetry is an art form, it evolves like all other art forms. It’s a dialogue between its past and its future. Yes, this may result in less of those visions of form you prefer. But art doesn’t exist to fill any one person’s preferences, nor should it. And if you’re a true believer in ANY kind of art, you would understand that.

Uncle Orson goes on to bash prose poetry and a recent “Best of…” compilation and quote a bunch of poems from his generation’s canon that represent what poetry “should” be.

He even sneaks in a couple of compliments to those few contemporary writers he reads that are still, in his opinion, good. And laments that poetry as,

words that so powerfully and memorably stir the heart.

If poets can’t — or won’t — do that, it’s hard to imagine what else they can write that even matters.

And this would be true, if there weren’t hundreds of contemporary poets that are producing works that are powerful and memorable and, to some, matter more than life itself. Poets, old and young, who work toward writing that matters and make writing matter to others.

Has he done anything positive with this article? You can read it yourself…

But as far as I’m concerned. His article isn’t really worth reading. If you’ve read down to here, you probably could have guessed that. It’s just another person who is afraid of change. And if you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, let’s let those old dogs lick their wounds and howl at the moon in any way they choose. Just because they want to criticize the future that they might not be around long enough to see, doesn’t mean that there aren’t some truly wonderful artists, both new and old, that do their job proving him wrong every day.


4 Responses to “Orson Scott Card: Elitist Poetry Grinch”

  1. Poff April 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    First, I love popsicles!

    I thought he fell completely off the point he was trying to make and instead the things I took away from the article were that (1) I should go read his online journal (2 plugs in very early subsequent paragraphs… really??) and (2) poets and poetry professors are all atheists and refuse to embrace Christian poems (what does that have to do with anything?) and (3) I should love sonnets and this Grace Noll Crowell in particular (I believe that sonnets and verse/meter teaching were exactly what I didn’t like about highschool poetry, not prose/free-verse which was kind of a footnote to my class, but he tried to tell me the exact opposite by stating, “This book is everything you hated about poetry in English class.”

    I think he is making a very poor argument by stating, “Page after page is devoted to “prose poems,” which are merely extravagant, narcissistic cascades of words with no music or structure to link them to what the words “poetry” and “verse” actually mean” since prose poems are not necessarily linked to narcissism in the definition of prose. those are two different criticisms he has linked in a double barreled statement so when he goes on to say that, “During poetry month, let’s celebrate poems like these — poems that are actually talking to real people with real lives, poems that are offered to us as a gift, as a blessing in our lives,” he’s somehow implying that this exists outside of the realm of prose completely. I’m aghast at his train of logic. Also, he’s refusing to believe that prose/slam poetry is speaking to ‘real people’? I don’t understand that for a minute. I could not relate with any of the poems he gave as striking examples of perfect poetry.


  2. Sarah April 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Okay, I started to post all this on your Facebook wall and then got annoyed with myself. . .

    I think much of how poetry is taught depends on the teacher you get. If you get an English teacher in high school who, like you, has a love of poetry, then that will come through in the teaching. If you stick someone in a classroom who has never understood it, then you’re going to end up with a half-assed poetry curriculum.

    As for slam poetry, it can be taught half-assed and it can be emotional throw-up, but so many teenaged poems are emotional throw-up; in my opinion, at least they are writing something and some day it might turn into something more. No one starts out at anything good at it. You don’t just wake up one day and know how to be a mechanical engineer anymore than you wake up one day an accomplished poet and every education must start somewhere. But to say that slam poetry in and of itself is not a valid form of poetry is insane; I am, as you know, from Knoxville, which is not exactly the slam poetry capital of the world, but I have seen some extremely talented people perform. There are more who I am fans of and I wish I could see perform. They may not publish books of poetry (though some of them have) but they are poets nonetheless, and talented people.

    I have personally had some amazing English and Lit. teachers in my time and they have taken the time to teach me some wonderful things about poetry. I also have had teachers who think poetry is shit and that language should not be used for such innane bullshit; it’s all opinion. I have loved poetry since I was a child and will probably continue to love it into my old age.

    Card’s essay seems to be as useless as it is snobbish. If you have a complaint, it is easier to complain openly than it is to come up with and implement a solution. If he doesn’t think that teachers teach poetry successfully or well, then what is his solution to the problem? He’s taken the easy way out, in my opinion.

  3. C.M. McGuire September 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    How about you learn how to develop an argument or at least learn how to spell before you start slamming on people who have learned to make a living from writing. Orson Scott Card is a successful, established author in an increasingly competitive market. What are you? An emotional teenager who doesn’t want to learn how to write, so you merely label yourself as “Contemporary” and call it good. Admirable…

    • redshana September 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

      Thanks for expressing your opinion! I recognize that sometimes I don’t fully develop my arguments, my blogs are often thoughts that I hope to build on through continued conversation with those who choose to read.

      And sorry about the type-os, I’m only human.

      Though I’m not a teenager, I am a published contemporary writer who is competitive within the field of contemporary literary creative writing, primarily in poetry. Orson Scott Card is a successful established author but that doesn’t reflect his current relationship to the writing world. That’s where a lot of my criticism was meant to be placed.

      If you’d like to actually have an argument, instead of simply posting insults, I’d love to hear some actual points of argument!

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