The Poet v. The Fanfare

By Cody Sexton

Yesterday afternoon, I received word that I did not place in a poetry competition. Not only that, but there was feedback given from the Judge.

Readers don’t need to be “reassured” they understand a poem, do they? Also, note the suggestion I should change my title from ‘The Potboiler’ to ‘Might I Offer Myself’.
The black squares have been blocked off as they pertain to my poem.
Again, the black squares pertain to my poem.

So, what all of this boils down to is their belief my poem was “too clever” for them/and/or/ audience. They believe people need to be ‘guided’ into a poem, like a parent guides their child into nursery. I find this completely bizarre. It is definitely a first for me, being called “too clever”. I’ve certainly been called a smart-arse in my time, but never when it comes to my work.

A few nights ago, I took part in a Zoom Poetry Reading that I hadn’t attended before. I have been told I made a significant impression. Some of the comments were as follows:

Mind-bending poetry!

What a stunning way to end the night!

No clichés here!

Perfectly structured.

A stark contrast to the previous feedback, right?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge is someone who was in a similar situation to I. In 1828, the London Weekly Review said of his work: “We cannot name one considerable poem of his that is likely to remain upon the thresh-floor of fame.” Of course, we know how loved Coleridge is, making that review complete nonsense.

Sylvia Plath is someone whose work I admire greatly, but if you look at some of the reviews of her work, a lot of people say they don’t get it. Plath was fiercely ambitious. She was always happy for her husband, Ted Hughes, whenever he achieved something. However, she often fell into his gaping shadow. It was only after her death that her career really took off.

So, here comes the question. How does a poet navigate the fanfare surrounding their work? It is incredibly frustrating when someone doesn’t understand what you are trying to do. They often argue that it is the fault of the writer, but poetry is often a puzzle that needs to be solved. That is the fun!

For now, I shall take “too clever” as the upmost of compliments. Said poem ‘The Potboiler’ has already been submitted elsewhere, and I will not be changing its title. Whatever perceived “not-insignificant potential” it has, the finished product is already seeking shelter.

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