Jilly linked yesterday to an interesting article comparing poets without poetic training to weekend athletes. High school teacher Rob Keast writes:
I am proposing that we lower our expectations of amateur poetry, along with all amateur art. At the next wedding, when the toast turns into verse, just relax. Grade amateur poets on a lower scale, as we do adult amateur athletes and amateur gardeners. Forgive the once-a-month poets their lack of degrees, their ignorance of who Charles Simic and Adrienne Rich are, and even their banal observations. Amateur poetry should be as free from expectation and awkwardness as the beer leagues are.
Finally, I see a reference to define my position on the subject. Mr. Keast is right and wrong. Yes, there should be an equivalent low-pressure venue for amateur poets as for amateur softball players. But - and this is the the critical point for me - just as you wouldn't send onto the softball field someone wearing a hockey mask and bowling shoes, you* cannot send to the microphone someone who does not own a poetic softball bat - who does not own and use some of the tools of poetry.
I don't expect the open-mic readers in my series to be able to quote Frost or talk about ways to teach poetry to 6th grade English classes or know which journals are prestigious, which are well-respected and which proliferate crap. I don't expect them even to know if their own work is any good - even accomplished poets often struggle with that. But I do expect them to know what makes their poems different from prose, and their prose different from poetry.
For much of my audience, this means rhymed stanzas. That's fine. Even if I don't care for it, I respect that they attempted to craft something into a poem.
The foul line, the rules of courtesy, the scoring system... even beer league bowlers know there are rules.
*A note on "you": here, I'm talking about poets and reading series hosts with an educational component to their job descriptions. If you take seriously the act of spreading the art of poetry - no matter what way you practice your own poetry - then it's "you" I'm talking to here.