Contra-Poetry #1: Spectator Mode

I’ve always been fearful about debating the constituents of Modern Poetry. Many things have elapsed between the outer edges of lyricism and the poetic revolution of Modernism and Post-Modernism of the twentieth century, and many more have been extensively debated and explored. The state of poetry requires no true explanation, however, because the same is palpable: declining, withering and un-captivating.
Why? That’s a complicated question, even grasping the width of what is being asked seems to be an exhausting task, but many can be tackled individually without being smothered by higher scopes. To me, the production of modern poetry fails on many fronts, and between abstractionism and minimalism (both highly unstable chains of literary generation) one can only agree on a singular vision if only one poem is analysed, anything else would be overly ambitious.
Conveniently, over-ambition is my middle name.

Spectator Mode

One of the most common communication mistakes I see in Modern Poetry is the distance crafted between poetic narration and poetic subject. This is, of course, reinforced by the usage of pronouns such as “she” and “he”, and you might be more familiar with the paradigm if I exemplify:

“She was formed of shimmer and golden-dust,
she glanced the sky with rose-form and blood,
she wept, sighting those made of iron and rust.”

Merely an example with no true conveyance that I made in a second and a half, but the idea is there. The She, the He, are experiences akin to those Arts of Hollow Men, they are conjured to inspire an empathic relation between the reader and the poem, but they do precisely the opposite. The She and the He, the They, are but objects of a poetic landscape, and as objects, they cannot mutate as fluidly as a poetic subject can. The vision; the transmission — must occur in the gap between the vision of the poet and their ultimate subject. Generating a false distance between the two is a lie many keen readers wont be willing to bite into.
The inability to create a tangible sensation of humanity within ones own composition mustn’t be corrected by stripping that humanity all-together.
Of course, this does not apply to lengthy narrative poems where the pronoun in question actually relates to a character that was previously constructed — although even then, the product can be considerably insufficient, ex. Margaret Atwood’s “Penelopiad”, whose construction was so detached that I genuinely believed Penelope was nothing more than a prop outlining the spaces where the poetic narrative took place.
It is an easy trap to fall into, one that is created by our own sense of insufficiency. But I tell you this, might I know little more: anything truly essential, anything with enough weight to be transmitted, is something that only the heart is able to encapsulate. The “She” and the “He”, and even that distorted Penelope, are but constructs of fear.
To unlock that transmutation of essentiality to poetry — or any other Art — must be a speech your heart imparts towards another.

I’ve personally never constructed poems like these simply because I do not know how to transmit what I want to transmit without being myself. The “I” of my poetry is the only “I” I’m able to create, even if false or imaginative, it is still something I can materially shape. Allowing yourself the freedom of communicating as a being rather than a master, to the point where you belong to a story rather than create it, to the point where reality is the dome you inhabit even when you attempt to escape it, is a truth that unlocks the devices necessary to produce actual genuine work. Work that not only resonates, but can be overpowered by someone else. The Shes and Hes will always be Shes and Hes, to any of us. But the I, that can be any of us, and I need to allow it that luxury, otherwise I’m strangling my poem even before it leaves the pen.

Of course, analysing these aspects can come off pretentious or detached, because not everyone constructs poems with the intention of general availability or understanding. To many, it’s merely a therapeutic activity and serves its purpose as such. I don’t often feel the need to criticise any poem on WordPress because there is no need to do so objectively, it is simply human expression and every single one I’ve read, whether my type or otherwise, whether nicely constructed or otherwise, has beauty of its own and by its own merit.
What I propose analysing here is poetry as a commerce, that which is sold and traded, and by consequence, must present a level of quality that justifies the interest. It is also of interest to mention the anglo-centric nature of this post, since I’ve never read any poem in Italian, Portuguese, French or Spanish that utilised this method of extreme spectating. I’m not sure why it is so exclusive to English, but I suppose its but a product of a fragile poetic culture, and because English was the seat of power to Modernism and other movements that allowed the rejection of classical composing methods.

If by any chance you use this technique to write, I have no intentions of demoralising you from using it. I also have no doubts that incredible compositions can be made using it, because poetry is much more than the usage of pronouns, but if you felt like something was “off”, I might have provided some clarity. And if, for any reason, you oppose my view, feel free to comment as to why and I will provide opposition/concordance, as we all grow with dialogue.


PS: I wrote this while listening to Portuguese Artist “Filho da Mãe” and his album “Mergulho“, his amazing collection of guitar instrumental work is both relaxing and incredibly inspiring for achieving mind-clarity in writing. It transcends language, so I believe everyone would benefit from giving him a shot.


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Hoje sou tudo no nada que sou, amanhã serei outro.

14 thoughts on “Contra-Poetry #1: Spectator Mode”

  1. An interesting analysis Johnny. Though having had to listen to self-professed literary ‘scholars’ at Uni, waxing lyrical about poetry and verse, and often disagreeing with their dry, soulless, analysis, I find myself disinclined to deconstruct poetry too much, if at all.
    I have very eclectic taste in the genre, and have yet to hear even a satisfactory definition of what constitutes ‘poetry’ at all. Since so much in literary criticism is subjective then, It’s also worth considering the extent to which literary fashion might determine our analytical criterion, and whether that criterion might necessarily change over time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Of course Aaron, all of this I wrote must be mutable! And if you ask me in a week and I have the exact same opinion, something will likely be wrong.
      I agree that analysing these constituents is a nefarious trap, since everything is subjective. But shaving a little here and there, looking at things individually and truly explore them, might give us some insight on how things are most efficiently done.
      We are at an Age of Information, and so much is available to us, it would be silly to say anything with full certainty. But debating these things is productive in my mind, so I enjoy it even if I’m extremely wrong, haha. I always get to learn something, what else could we ask for?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great article, I can fully agree. Even though I will use “she” in some of my poetry it is mostly used for descriptive purposes particularly when I am expressing my thoughts philosophically. The vast majority of my poems use “I”, for like yourself it is all I know, that which I can actually feel, and shape myself which my poems focus on. I see this will be a series of articles so I am eager to see what else you have to say 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your usage differs because you are not a mere describer, but an interactor. That level of emotional investment is not only necessary, but an assured path to connectivity.
      I have a lot to say, haha, but I promise to be as gentle as I always am. I’m really fearful of people interpreting this as an attack, which is not at all what I’m trying to achieve. That is likely to be the biggest obstacle, navigating these topics without alienating anyone along the way, but it is a mission I’m hopeful I can succeed at!
      Thank you so much Aaron!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Gentle or harsh I know I will still enjoy what you have to say. It gives me things to think about. I don’t always have the technical words to describe how I write or what lol I believe this series is going to help me out in that regard!

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Great post, great subject. For me it seems all too natural to theorize a poem by ‘spectating ‘. Recently I found myself playing with an idea regarding growing old and my relationship to technology and my initial reaction was to write it from an outside perspective. It took some time fumbling with the subject before I realized, I am struggling with this why don’t I write it from my perspective, from my heart. Things are always better this way, but so so much harder.

    I heard someone once say us Americans would rather go to a lecture on life than actually living life! Perhaps an Anglo thing like you said…

    I love the take on criticism of poetry, it is an expression of self and how can it ever be wrong?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are so correct, it is much harder. We live the poetry we dare not write, and when roles are inverted and we must write the poetry we dare not live, it can become an extremely overbearing experience.
      But that hardship, that struggle, that is part of the Art, and the wounds it opens bleed into our readers. We are no longer detached, we are bonding like the Fox and the Little Prince. To truly captivate someone is to open everything to them, and let them taste the pain of which we’re made of.
      I’m young and eager for learning, so it is a true honour to have you by my blog and to read your words. Thank you so much.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It really is my honor! You are very talented and inspired and inspiring! I have been working on being more comfortable with commenting.

        Sharing ideas, collaborating, or just talking shop with other artists is something that has long been missing from my life, and something I hope to find more of with the blog. Thank you for your kind words and keep up the good work!

        Liked by 3 people

  4. I’ve read your article and the comments that follow… I do feel a bit out of my depth here and I wonder if I have anything meaningful to add but I will say this, I have been making a conscious effort to not write simply as therapeutic. And as mentioned some time aback you have inspired me to re read, edit and not just vent. In doing so I have actually been moving away from pronouns and when I do it’s usually ‘I’. In this way it does become more relatable to readers. I enjoyed this article… as always I learn so much from you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Few days back. We freuds were reading each others work. I started reading out some of my recent work to them. I felt sleepy and bored.
    Well yes even my work seems boring to me at times. Imagine what others’ works would be.
    And I amn’t aline here.
    You are right at this, detachment of narrative from subject might very well be one reason.
    But Johnny. You are well educated at analysing poetry. With your highly busy schedule, if you get time to read any poetry on any blog, and feel to criticise it productively, you should do it. I know its a botheration. I used to write poems and keep them withme mostly. I opened my blog to get some criticism, just so I can get a perception preassure. Maybe to evolve. I may not always want, but might very well need your criticism. Even if its rude to an extent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can surely look at your poetry and add some annotations. I will not need to be rude, I think if I cannot convey my opinion and knowledge without sounding aggressive and insulting, I’m not even in a place to speak to being with.
      I will be as gentle as I can, and surely it won’t be as bad as you make it seem. A few tweaks can make major differences, people often fear the motor of change, but sometimes changing even a singular word can warp the entire composition. One mustn’t look far to improve, they just need to look hard.

      Liked by 1 person

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