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A Critique of Modern Poetry

by Lionel E. Deimel


It isn’t a crime

To make your verse rhyme,

And you aren’t a cheater

For writing in meter.


The stanzas you craft

Don’t show that you’re daft,

And a comma or two

You needn’t eschew.


Above all, remember,

Come May or September,

It’s not an offense

If your poems make sense.



I sometimes experience pangs of insecurity when I read poems in The New Yorker or elsewhere. So much modern poetry is amorphous, lacking rhyme, regular meter, conventional punctuation, and often, I think, any clear meaning accessible to the reader who knows nothing about the poet. It was reassuring, therefore, when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published recently, as its poem of the week, a work by Samuel Hazo, Pittsburgh’s most celebrated contemporary poet. The poem was well-structured, rhymed, and made a coherent point.

I am not a badge-carrying deputy of the Poetry Police, classifying alleged poems into “real” and “pseudo” categories, but I do feel that one should not have to apologize for writing a poem that has some structure to it. Moreover, I feel strongly that, if poetry is to be a public art form, the poet has some obligation to give the reader a fighting chance to figure out what the work is about, even if that means supplying an explanation external to the poem itself. I have said that this poem is a defense of the traditional, not an attack on the new. You may decide for yourself if this is a valid characterization; there admittedly is some bitterness in the closing lines.

This poem was written on March 8 and 9, 2003. The first two lines came to me immediately after reading Dr. Hazo’s poem. The rest of the poem required a bit more work. It was a temptation to make the poem longer, but I thought that 12 lines made my point without belaboring it and concluded that the poem was long enough. A few days after I first set down the poem, I realized that I could rhyme “offense” with “sense,” so, on 3/14/2003, I replaced the original final two lines:

You’re not simply dense

If your poems make sense.

I hope this substitution is seen as an improvement.

By the way, May and September could clearly have been replaced by other months. I don’t know why I chose these two months, but I did so because it seemed like a good idea at the time; I didn’t think much about it. Having subsequently thought about it, I really have no reason to choose other months.

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