The AVBOB Poetry Competition | Myths about Poetry | Poetry Myths

Unfortunate Myths about Poetry that People Still Believe

The role of various art forms throughout history is undeniably vital. It gives us a picture of what past societies, and people’s relationships with these societies, looked like. As we transform, so does our art, leaving a legacy for generations to come. Poetry is one such art form, using the power of the word to communicate the imagination within. While language is limited, poems capture the feel of abstract concepts and express them with a unique style. Unfortunately, poetry is still terribly misunderstood, especially by non-writers who may view the art as intimidating or even vapid. If you have been exploring what it means to write poems and where to start, then it may help to break past the myths that often give poets and their work a bad rap.

“Writing Poems is Easy”

Jackson Pollock, the famed abstract expressionist artist known for his action paintings, was a controversial figure. Many of his artworks featured splattering, dripping, and pouring paint techniques that leaves some viewers, even today, with a bad taste in their mouth. “Anyone can do that” is a phrase often heard when people first see Pollock’s works, though they may not know how revolutionary his raw expression was when it first appeared. Poetry is often seen similarly, overlooked as simple nursery rhymes that anyone can create. Though they play a role, the heart of art is not about skill or technique. It is the human experience mirrored back to us – and that takes vulnerability and honesty. Vulnerability is never easy, and poets who wear their hearts on their sleeves and write about something important to them are courageous.

“Every Piece Has to Rhyme”

Writing will always be flexible and fluid, and poems are the greatest proof of this. While rhyming can add to the rhythm and the flow of a piece, those ABAB rhyme schemes can also suffocate the authenticity of it. Many poem styles do not rhyme at all, and they can be just as harmonious to read without imitating Dr Seuss. If you would like to move away from rhyming poems, have a look at non-rhyming styles such as haikus, blank verse and free verse poems, and concrete poems.

“Rhythm and Length are Non-negotiable”

For poets just starting to experiment with language and expression, figuring out rhythm and meter concepts like stressed and unstressed syllables and line length is daunting. Not every piece needs to use an impressive iambic pentameter pattern or beat to which they are read. Some poems may even be defined by their lack of regular meter and rhythm, approaching natural speech rhythm.

“It Needs to Sound Like Shakespeare”

High school poetry, with its endless fixation on Romeo and Juliet, has been the cause of much disdain for the written word. While Shakespeare, in all his brilliance, had a profound impact on language, his works do not define poetry. Countless modern writers use their verses as a transformative force in the world, bringing awareness to oppressed and marginalised groups in society. Poems no longer resemble the Old English of the Middle Ages but have moved towards relevant, conversation-starting themes.

“Poems Are Just About Soppy Feelings”

Poems can be about anything. While emotions are often the driving force behind poetic expression, poetry can be about the mundane and ordinary things in life we take for granted – like that first sip of morning coffee or a cat lying in the sun. Art is subjective, and the expression behind it and interpretation thereof is subjective too. This means that poetry is not all about sensitivity and romance. It can be about social justice, or about the simple pleasure of eating someone else’s plums, as in William Carlos Williams’ poem, “This Is Just to Say”.

“Poetry as an Art Form is Not Profitable”

Because it’s a specific literary genre, it may be difficult to make a living from writing poems, but many poets have made a success of it. One way to test your prowess is to enter writing competitions, such as The AVBOB Poetry Project, and possibly even win cash prizes and get published. If your goal is to become a professional writer, then hard work and commitment to your craft will make it possible.

If you would like to find and read poems by local South African artists in your home language, click here to view our library.

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