Take Two: The problem with popular ‘poetry’

Emily Jacobsson and Pauline Woodley

We’ve all been there, sitting in English, lost in the middle of a discussion of a poem. When breaking down poetry in class, we can be overwhelmed with words we don’t understand, symbols we don’t immediately see and complex hidden meanings. Yet, amidst all the frustration, we realize that what we are reading is good poetry.

Unfortunately, contemporary poetry seems to have lost its beauty. Teenagers can’t wait to purchase the newest poetry books, like Rupi Kaur’s “Milk and Honey,” and post pictures of her “relatable” poetry on their social media. However, it doesn’t get much deeper than page 157:

“Stay/ I whispered/ As you/ shut the door/ behind you”

The poems that have become popular among teens have no substance and are written in the most literal sense possible. While one of Langston Hughes’s poems could be broken down for days, an analysis of a piece of “trendy” contemporary poetry might last a little longer than three minutes.

And yet, the public has still fallen in love with it. With 4.3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, “Milk and Honey” has received reviews raving about how heartfelt and inspirational her collection of poems are. In addition to her acclaim, sales have reached over a million copies and the book has topped the New York Times best seller’s list for over 40 weeks.

“For a woman, every word she has written is important. I don’t know this author, but I believe her to be very intelligent and brave,” MaryKate Delila wrote in her review on TheOdysseyOnline.

Kaur is not the only one guilty of unsubstantial poetry as these types of collections have become commonplace. Writers like Nayyirah Waheed and Lang Leav have written their own “Milk & Honey,” that is indistinguishable from its predecessor.

Rather than having a true theme and central idea, these poems seem more like random, spur of the moment thoughts. This poetry is insulting not only to poets of the past such as Whitman, Poe and Dickinson, but also to the actual modern poets that are not receiving recognition for their talents.

If it has any value at all, this kind of easy to understand, easy to relate to poetry might work as a good way to spark an interest of poetry in young people, but at what cost?

Now we understand this may sound pretentious, and we aren’t trying to be literature-snobs, we just believe something as sacred as poetry should have some standards. Sure, not every poem ever published has to be excellent or groundbreaking, but at the very least it should make people feel, and the only thing these poems makes us feel are lack of hope in modern poets.

Literature is a unique subject in that, in questioning it, there is never any one right answer. Everything is up to the reader’s interpretation.

However, we still should be able to distinguish minimalistic poetry from an utter lack of effort and genuineness.