In one poetry writing workshop in college, I had class with a girl who wrote terribly bad poems. Actually, it was the same bad poem, spun out over and over, popping up every workshop session.
The poem was presented on the same special paper, in the same fancy font. It had the same shape: 8-10 lines, in the form of an elongated Christmas ornament, thin on top and bottom, fat in the middle. What was the poem about? Who knows?
This poem never changed, and I wondered if the writer was in the same stagnant mire as her poem. Sure, writers do have styles and tropes and devices that they return to, even themes that repeat across works, but don’t writers challenge themselves? Don’t they—shouldn’t they—branch out, stretch themselves?
Maybe she was just trying to find her voice in this one poem, and couldn’t. Maybe she thought (or someone mistakenly told her) her poem was a good one, and she needn’t write a different poem. Maybe she (as the rest of us, at times) had the infamous writer’s block. Maybe she had no time, or couldn’t take the time, to write good poems.
One day, after class, the bad poet gave me a book of poems, saying that she thought I would like it. She did not. The book is Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros; it is full of passionate and fully female poems. Wonderful poems. Happy to take the volume off her hands, my second thought was what is wrong with her that she doesn’t like this book?
Another thought: maybe she didn’t read good poems. But to each her own. If I can’t be judgmental about what someone reads (no one likes a literature snob!), then surely I shouldn’t be judgmental about what a person writes. Maybe, eventually, she got better. Maybe she still writes poems today. Maybe she changed her major.
But, there’s one other way to look at it: She obviously loved writing poems. She cared enough to personalize them with special paper and the fancy fonts. I can imagine her framing her poems, hanging them proudly on her dorm room walls. She presented each poem as a little gift to the class. There was some care to her craft, even if there was no depth, or substance.
So, my advice to you, dear writers, is to make use of National Poetry Month, and go write some bad poems. Maybe even frame one and hang it on the wall.