Why is it a lie? Because it doesn’t deserve the 2016 Goodreads Choice Award. Really, the moment I finished this collection, the only plausible reason I can think of for voters to vote for this collection is its feminist title because I find almost nothing poetic about the “poems” here.
Mary Oliver, in A Poetry Handbook, wrote that poetic diction is one of the inappropriate languages for poetry and okay, I do like poetic diction now and then but I agree that it’s been done to death and should stay in the previous centuries. However, look up poetic diction. Read how it flows. At this present time, it’s counted as clichéd–artificial even—but read something like the first stanza of George Gordon Byron’s ‘She Walks in Beauty’:
HE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
And you can already feel that it’s poetic. It flows beautifully off the tongue when read out loud, and there is imagery and phonaesthetic devices of poetry in play as well. Then, you read something like this:
my sister & i
spent out nights
plastered to our
ceiling. (‘we made it after all’ from the princess saves herself in this one)
Does that even sound remotely poetic to you? To me, it certainly didn’t. Read this first stanza from Sylvia Plath’s ‘Tulips’:
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.
There are rhymes that you can’t immediately pick up by sight. It is written in free verse, like Lovelace’s ‘we made it after all’ but this singular stanza sounds even more poetic than Lovelace’s entire poem.
Mary Oliver also lists clichés, inversion and informational language as inappropriate. So, it’s clear that contemporary poets have their work cut out for them. What do contemporary poets have to write to be different from the previous poets? What can they contribute to what would later be a new poetry group or movement? Certainly not “poetry” that has no or near-zero flow—that read like clichéd, stereotypical quotes that you can find on social media within a few seconds. Not “poetry” that uses overused imagery and clichés in the same old ways.
Sure, there are some beautiful shapes in the princess saves herself in this one. Concrete poetry is a favourite of mine, but what’s the point when the content isn’t poetic? When the content sounds more like lines in a novel than lines in poetry? Yes, there’s prose and verse novels but prose and verse novels have a different form—different ways to flow. Also, since this book is a collection of poetry and not a verse novel, I can’t even bring myself to justify certain things and make myself more amendable to the way these “poems” have been written, difficult topics/subjects or not.
The amount of contemporary “poets” these days despair me. Poetry is never meant to be easy. It’s a beautiful creature—a wondrous medium and outlet for emotions and such—that can become a devil and/or an angel when willed but it needs to be tamed. It has to be negotiated with, it has to be understood. One wrong move and you will be kissed for it has turned into a Dementor, one right move and you have a Patronus enveloping you with warmth and love and brilliance and everything good. I know logically that blood, sweat and tears have been poured into writing all kinds of poems, but I cannot help but to think that very little effort is exercised by the author when reading poems like the ones in the princess saves herself in this one.