4 minute read

Hi, I’m a poet now

I’ve never been very into poetry, which probably says more about me than poetry, which we all know sucks.

Seriously though, I envy everyone’s ability to enjoy anything. I get a choke reflex from raw tomatoes, and I am jealous of everyone who slaps a slice on a sandwich, sprinkles a little salt and rolls their eyes back in the head with ecstasy. The more healthy things we enjoy the better off we are. The converse of this are the people who don’t like drinking water. I can hardly image.

For me, eating a raw tomato is like eating poop. Gun to my head I probably could, but it would be over the objections of something deep inside me.

Anyway I was invited to a housewarming where people were to bring and read a poem. While I don’t care for poetry much, I do enjoy it more than eating poop, so I decided to go.

A friend of mine and I were going to come with ChatGPT-generated poems. She made one about her cat, like most ChatGPT creations, it was ~90% coherent, which, applied to most practical problems in the world, is both very impressive and completely disastrous. 90% driving gets people killed. The poem was also saccharine, but honestly her relationship to this cat is also kind of saccharine. No points deducted there.

My idea was to make a poem that was in the style of Shakespeare, but much more sexually explicit. Transposed into our time, I bet this might be the authentic Shakespeare, listening to Play by David Banner and thinking, “yes, this is the appropriate level of subtlety”.

Unfortunately, these prompts were rejected by ChatGPT as violations of its terms of service. Apparently, in 2023, I still can’t summon an array of supercomputers to write horny poetry for free. If you want to harness this planet-warming data-center it has to be write a ballad to your cat.

So, I went with option 2 which was to write a poem. A virtue of poetry is that almost anything is a poem. I’m no expert, but you basically can’t not write a poem. A shopping list? Poem. The receipt at the grocery store? Poem. Poem? Poem. There’s no excuse not to write a poem. I error on the side of participation, so I wrote a poem.

My poem

No time for poetry There’s no time for poetry Only showers And work And eating And the minimum physical activity necessary to delay physical deterioration And copious media consumption

No time for poetry

What’s it about? Well, my belief is that many things we might enjoy require an investment in time. I think we all have likes and dislikes that come very naturally to us, but we can also cultivate enjoyment. This brand new concept that I totally just invented might be characterized as “acquired taste”.

During the pandemic, I developed my taste for coffee. I went from being a caffeine addict to a caffeine addict with opinions about black mugs of joe. It really was a matter of time, just trying different coffees each day and spending time thinking about them, what I liked or didn’t.

I haven’t spent that time on poetry, and for many reasons. Some good, some dubious. What would poetry-appreciating Sam be like? How would his life be different? We don’t know.

Why I’m skeptical of poetry

I listened to a bunch of poems at this party and I retained very little. I found it hard to track the ideas, lock in on what was being expressed. I’m not sure to what extent this is universal. I have a minor audio processing disability, and I suspect I very much depend upon calculating what people might be about to say in understanding what they are saying. Poetry breaks a lot of rules which means the structure might be less predictable.

Back in college, I took a mandatory English 101, which was essentially “how to write”. I thought I was a pretty good writer but struggled a bit. The thing that I thought was good about my writing was that it was clever and interesting. One day I decided to maliciously comply with the lesson and strip all flavor out of my writing and submit a piece that was Dick and Jane level basic. I got an A+.

This was quite a realization for me. The lesson as I’ve come to understand it is that people need things to be spelled out much more clearly than you likely expect. This went on to being a useful concept for me for my life to date: it’s unsurprising when people don’t understand things and if you want to avoid that you’re going to have to be very clear.

So if it’s such an uphill battle to understand prose, what chance does poetry have? I’m a little skeptical that ideas have a meaningful shot of getting from pencil tip to brain. But if people enjoy it, what does it matter? I genuinely enjoy bean water, what’s the point of that? At least we’re not eating poop.