The Half-Dead Poet Review – But Is It Poetry? That Is The Question

Is It PoetryPOETRY


a :  metrical writing :  verse
b :  the productions of a poet :  poems


writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm


a :  something likened to poetry especially in beauty of expression
b :  poetic quality or aspect <the poetry of dance>

– Definition from The Merriam Webster Dictionary


A scramble of words that may or may not make sense to the reader, but always means something to someone.

– Definition from Urban Dictionary


So is it poetry?

It’s not “to be or not to be” apparently because E.E. Cummings clearly states that poetry is being and not doing but seriously that’s the question that has been thrown back and forth by literary critics, theorists, and other strange and eccentric people down through the centuries who sincerely believe that they are and were experts on the subject of poetry going back to the time of Plato, Aristotle and Horace. In fact, it is my guess that there is a whole unrecorded history of literary criticism out there where cave men would pee on or possibly stone to death other cave men for reciting poems in public but we will discuss that theory at another time.  “But is it Poetry?” is now in fact probably the second most popular literary question these days right after the very over-used and cliché “Is Poetry Dead?” question which has been utilized and regurgitated by almost every online media magazine by now to grab the attention of you, me and the masses.

[su_quote cite=”E.E. Cummings”]Poetry is being, not doing. [/su_quote]

But the real question is this; What do we as human beings and as a society really know about poetry and what matters when reading or writing a poem? And what really makes someone an actual quote “Poet” or for that matter a “Poetry Expert” or gives them the props to say: ​

Hey buddy? That poem you just read? Well it really sucked eggs. I give it a 3”.

So first and honestly let’s just cut to the chase because no one here really wants to read an article on boring critics and poetry critic wanna-be’s for the next half an hour.  Truth is there are no real poetry experts out there and never have been any true experts in the field of poetry or prose, verse or art. There are only those who have self-assigned themselves the grand egotistical title of “Poetry Critic” whether they are academics, laymen or in our modern age what we may refer to simply as “bloggers”.


As a wise old man once told me “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one”. And in the end no matter how many books you’ve read on the subject, no matter what you believe regarding substance and style in poetry or how you think poetry should sound or be? When it all comes down to it the craft of writing is what really matters. What you have to say truly matters. For you may learn many tricks, forms, devices and styles, read the words of ancient poets in translation or have every damn book on poetic theory ever written but in the end what you must eventually do is find your own voice and put it all down in words. Poetry is not and will never be a name brand item or a product. Poetry is not just about the word “Slam” and incidentally has nothing to do with pop culture icons Kayne West, Taylor Swift, battles or competitions. Poetry is not just for academics or elitists, beatniks or emo-hipsters. Because as Lawrence Ferlinghetti once said “Poetry is for everyone” And that means you too. Never let anyone tell you that you should stop writing or that your writing is never going to amount to anything (including professors). And never let any rejection letters or emails from editors halt your efforts at being a writer.  Hell, the first poem that I ever had published wasn’t even a poem at all but actually a joke. It was titled “A Poem For Every Mime Who Has Ever Annoyed Us With A Wall Imitation” and that was just it. There was nothing after it since the page was completely blank and the title was actually the poem.

Since then? Over the last 25 years or so I’ve been quite successful at having many of my poems published in zines, journals and magazines (mostly the ones with words in them) that is. But is it really a poem? Was it really poetry? Yes …No … Ok, well, maybe. Why? Because somehow we all know what we like or what we don’t like. So your opinion is just as important as anyone else’s including every editor’s, professor’s or any poetry contest slam judge. So don’t ever be fooled. Because after you pull down the stage curtain you’ll someday realize that it’s all just an illusion. It’s all just a hoax. Want to test it? Next time you find a slam going on in your neighborhood try reading a poem from the 16th or 17th century by a famous poet other than Will Shakespeare and don’t tell them who its by. And when they give you that really horrible score or tell you it sucked? You can proudly say something snarky like “Wow. That was a really famous sonnet by Sir Blah Blah Blah of Blah Blah and you didn’t even recognize his name?” “I guess you’re not fit to be a real poetry judge.”

And then, you may want to run out of the venue very very quickly.

But honestly? There are only two real rules that matter. So pay attention.

1) Just keep writing.

Because in the end? All critics are all just really assho… err, I mean somewhat “edjumakated theorists” with opinions. Eventually you will find your own style and voice and that’s how it should be. Be visionary. Write novels, write stories and poems and most importantly? Be authentic. Be you.

And 2) ?

Never ever pay more than four or five dollars (a donation perhaps) to attend or perform at a poetry open mic, slam or any reading or event. Because anything over that amount? It’s a rip off. Poetry should be free. Poetry is not about money and never will be. If it’s yours or someone else’s? Like it or not? It’s something sacred that they have taken the chance and the time to share a small part of their soul with you. So be nice. Play nice.

Or I’ll find you…and make you watch mimes.

2 thoughts on “The Half-Dead Poet Review – But Is It Poetry? That Is The Question”

  1. I have been asked why my column is called “The Half Dead Poet Review”. Simple answer: I’ve lived out half my life already. So relax, pour yourself a drink and enjoy all the articles here on Albany Poets. You may have more time left than I do.

  2. I would just like to comment on Rob’s iconic quote, “Opinions are like assholes…” that it is incomplete, as least as far as my grandmother used to say it. Her version was “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, & they all stink, except your own.” That makes it even more appropriate to poetry & poets.

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