Regular readers of this column will know that I am simply a huge fan of the internet. Quite apart from the hours of sweat and toil I devote to this this Blog, I delight in sharing images of whatever comestible is on the plate in front of me, commenting forcefully on the standard of service or accommodation currently on offer wherever I happen to be, or Tweeting whatever thought just happens to be flitting between the windmills of my mind. My small, perfectly formed smart phone is my breast-pocket friend and I demand that it is always available for use, even if that means that my Man is obliged to trail around after me with a lead-acid car battery and step-down transformer on a gurney to charge the thing.
I am continually amazed at how social media has allowed us access to the human psyche to an almost spooky degree, almost as if web sites were able to read our very minds. For example, it is a common occurrence for me to find myself clicking on the images at the bottom of a web page, almost as if the designer knew that the thing I most wanted to know was what various child stars of twenty years ago look like today or why a selection of wardrobe malfunctions had gone unnoticed by the wearers. However, with great power comes great responsibility; I have become aware the internet does not entirely cover itself with veracity. I am alarmed by the huge amount of fakery apparent; specifically, the fake poetry invading the web. I am determined to do something about it. Google, Facebook, beware!
There was no fake poetry at this week’s Workshop. John Hurley got the ball rolling with a dark polemic on the state of the world’s newer leaders. Danuta Sotkin-Kondycki is deeply concerned with people in love and that they should continue to believe in Starlight. Alan Chambers inspired the group with one from the archive, enigmatically reflecting on the death of Philip Larkin. Daphne Gloag is also reprising something of a project with her poem on the four elements and the words they inspire. Nick Barth remembered childhood day trips to London’s dark tunnels. Martin Choules is excited about Spring and bulbs, which is atypical poetic behaviour, while Pat Francis has been wondering about the legacy of the mysterious Picts, which is typically poetic. Peter Francis has been listening to Classical Jewish music and detecting a gender divide. Finally, Ann Furneaux’s William lost his passport and cannot visit France.
As I say, the World Wide Wonderweb appears to be teeming with Fake Poetry these days and it is incumbent upon me to warn you, the gentle reader about it. So, imagine the scene; you are innocently scanning a web page containing a column of text, usually indented and grouped into familiar stanzas. How does one identify that this is, in fact, Fake Poetry? I would like to suggest a few simple tests:
- Is the poem about cats? The reader is reminded that no legitimate poetry about cats has been written since 1939, and that TS Eliot (for it was he) was in all probability anticipating the dark days of War in Europe which were about to ensue. The last thing that ‘Old Possum’ was on about was cats.
- Is the poem attempting to be amusing? Legitimate poetry is not funny, and if it is, this was not the writer’s intention. Even poets who can carry off a comedic poem are merely reflecting a dark inner conflict gnawing at their soul. You may laugh, but you are laughing at yourself.
- Does the poem rhyme? Now, don’t get me wrong, we are all in favour of rhyming poetry at PP, however arming the untrained writer with a rhyming dictionary is akin to arming a Yorkshire Terrier a megaphone. It will not sound pretty.
- Is the poem entirely in lower case? e e cummings famously discovered lower-case poetry when his typewriter’s caps key failed. No poet writing today can claim the same credible excuse for what is the poetic equivalent of muttering.
- Is the poem entirely about the poet? All poets begin writing poetry about themselves, however, most soon learn that this does not provide nearly enough source material. Few legitimate poets are interesting enough to sustain a lifetime’s output based entirely upon themselves and are forced to vicariously hoover up the experience of other people. How can we poets be interesting when we spend so many hours of the day sitting in cafes and public libraries shuffling words around in notebooks?
- Does the poem name a commercial product? This is the real reason for the rise in fake verse; the creeping commercialisation of poetry. It is not for me to point out the futility of writing poetry for profit but who of us at one time or another has not felt inspired to book a city break in Berlin after browsing a bit of Auden, pop out to the Garden Centre after catching some Wordsworth, yearned for an orthopaedic sandal following a choice passage from William Blake or fancied taking up taxidermy following a session with Ted Hughes? The power of poetry is not lost on the advertisers. They want your clicks and will use Fake Poetry to get them.
If you have been, thank you for reading.