I’ve never been a poetry person. I’ll write short stories, flash fiction, and the beginnings of novels, but never poetry on my own time. I do read it every once in a while, and I enjoy explicating poems in class, but whenever I’ve been asked to write it, I have always felt about as qualified as a fish specialist at Petco being asked to train the latest Shamu.
Fortunately, the poetry class I’m in this semester (with Professor Cody Walker) asks us to write capital “B” Bad Poetry just as often as it asks us to compose lines worthy of publication. We take perfectly wonderful poems and “de/compose” them, tweaking one or two of their best qualities and leaving laughably inadequate paraphrases behind. In the process, we are instructed to reflect upon why our changes make the poems so Bad. What is it about the originals that makes them so great?
I never would have guessed that writing Bad Poetry would make clearer the greater aspects of famous poets like Sylvia Plath or Emily Dickinson, but it has. And it has also made my attempts at good poetry, a lot better. It draws my attention to musicality, imagery, emotion, word choice, and voice, and in doing so has given me a better understanding of how to successfully manipulate the English language in all kinds writing. It forces me to look at what I’m doing wrong and what others are doing right.
So next time you feel stuck on your writing – whether it’s poetry or prose – try writing something really awful. Take a master author/poet’s writing and make it Bad. Take your own writing and make it worse. Figure out what it is that’s working for you, and what it is that’s working for them. Write a really Bad poem from scratch just to shake the writer’s block. And from there, turn the bad to good, the good to great. Make Bad Poetry work for you.