10 Poetry Myths–Busted.

Originally posted on April 6, 2011 at 3:41 PM

1. Poetry is boring.

You zombied out during the entire poetry semester in high school. You’d rather be poked in the eye with a spoon repeatedly that sit through an open mic. You use a book of poetry to help you fall asleep every night. I get it.

Busted: the juicy stuff.

• War poems. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson
• Erotica. “may i feel said he” by ee cummings
• Horror poetry. “Lamia” by John Keats

2. Poetry is all the same (There’s nothing new to say).

Flowers. Love. Loss. Nature. Barf.

Busted: fresh ideas.

• your beloved dog actually wants to kill you: “Revenant” by Billy Collins
• “You Can’t Write a Poem About McDonald’s” by Ronald Wallace
• tricking oysters: “The Walrus and The Carpenter” by Lewis Carroll

3. Form poetry has contrived word choice.

You’ve seen one too many poets cram a senseless line into an otherwise decent poem to fulfill formatic requirements. You’ve heard one too many bizarre rhymes. You yourself have written one to many crappers in an attempt to pop out a sonnet. Form poetry just kind of blows.

Busted: poems that use forms (rather than being used).

• “Pity me not” by Edna St. Vincent Millay (sonnet)
• “In Flanders Fields” by Lieut-Col John McCrae (rondeau)
• “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas (villanelle)

4. If it doesn’t rhyme (or have meter), it’s not poetry.

There are purists who will adamantly argue this. I am not one of them. They are quibbling technicalities. I may not be able to define poetry, but I damn well know it when I see it.

Busted: beautiful free verse.

• “in Just-” by E. E. Cummings
• “Forgetfulness” by Hart Crane
• “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot

5. Poetry is cryptic.

You’re tired of hearing professors ask you to “read between the lines.” You roll your eyes when hipsters in bars say, “But what does he mean by that?” You’re least favorite phrase is “What I think the poet is really trying to say here…”

Busted: poems that mean exactly what they say.

• “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
• “Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden
• “How Did You Die?” by Edmund Vance Cooke

6. Poetry is pretentious.

Poets tie their sweaters around the shoulders instead of their hips. They drink special coffees at indie shops. They refuse to shave various body parts on some moral/social/economical/intellectual principle. They have secret clubs.

Busted: down to earth poems.

• “Hangover” by Billy Collins
• “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke
• “Sick” by Shel Silverstein

7. You can’t make money off of poetry.

Starving artist. We’re all familiar.

Busted: money-makers.

• Maya Angelou is a millionaire.
• In 1999, Random House gave Billy Collins a six-figure sum for a three-book deal.
• The Academy of American Poets alone gives over 100,000 in grants and awards every year.

8. Poetry is a dying art.

No one writes poetry anymore. Or if they do, they’re going to die soon.

Busted: poets under 30.

• Ellen Kennedy (1989 – )
• Chelsea Martin (1986 – )
• Daniel Bailey (1984 – )

9. Anyone can write poetry.

The implication, with this myth, is that anyone can write poetry well. It’s hard to deny that anyone can write it; it’s hardly an exclusive sport. But the idea here is that the big names are crocks, that they could easily be replaced by no-namers, and that this poetry thing doesn’t really take skill, work, or dedication.

Busted: awful poetry by famous people.

A Night without Armor by Jewel
Touch Me by Suzanne Somers
Will I Think of You by Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek’s Mr. Spock)

10. Poetry can’t be critiqued.

Poetry, at its most glorified, is straight expression from the heart. It is Art. With the capital “A.” You can’t touch that, man.


You totally can. And if you’re trying to be a professional about it, you should. Fiction, painting, sculpture, music, and acting are all “Art” too, but people give them the respect of critique. Why should poetry be any different?

More on critiquing poetry in Friday’s guest blog.

Truth: “I can’t write it, so I don’t like to read it.”


Okay, so this isn’t exactly a myth. But it is a barrier. And a silly one, at that. Do you not look at paintings because you can’t create them? Don’t eat gourmet food because you don’t think you could cook it? Don’t be a goof ball. You don’t have to be an excellent poet to read and appreciate excellent poetry.

Truth: “73% of all poetry is not worth reading.” – Billy Collins


This is no excuse. There are a lot of crappy everythings out there, from seamstresses to musicians, but people haven’t vowed to stop getting things altered or stop listening to music. Just let the passionates do the weeding out for you, and read the poets that other people have already shown to be good. Ain’t no thing.

Have a poetry myth to add and bust? Or something to disagree with? Comments.

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