There's a simple explanation of unpoetry and a long-winded, overly-florid, and rather pretentious one.
First, the simple one. I like some old poetry. I don't like almost any new poetry. I write what I want to read. I want others to write what I want to read. Therefore, I'm giving a name to what I like to read and want to write.
Ok, now for the long-winded, overly-florid, and rather pretentious explanation.
Modern trends have supplanted the notion of poetry as an extension of literary craft with poetry as a means of expression/catharsis/risk-free-political-rebellion/activism/memoir.
I won't speculate on the causes for this, nor whether the genre has seen an evolution or simply been hijacked. Such things rarely are as clear as they seem, nor is diagnosis of obvious utility. It is the prognosis with which we must concern ourselves, and this prognosis seems increasingly grim.
The modern practice of poetry (as seen in publication rather than individual endeavor) suffers from an odd confluence of cliquishness, pretentiousness, and lack of grace. It simultaneously lauds gimmicky experimentalism by some — mistaking novelty for creativity — yet demands adherence to certain forms by others.
It also has failed to accommodate an emerging (or reemerging) trend: the brief yet forceful expression of ideas through elegant prose. Flash fiction, microfiction, sudden fiction, and various other oddly-named and ambiguously-defined subgenres encroach on much of what once was poetry, yet are rejected wholesale by an increasingly insular and out-of-touch poetry community. Despite its name, prose poetry is just another vigilantly curated form, and modern poetry has little use for mere poetic prose.
The practice of contemporary poetry largely consists of small groups of friends slapping one another on the back for "bravely" narcissistic self-expression, and congratulating themselves on the beauty of their own work. A few such small groups happen to be in positions of authority. These use their role as gatekeepers to direct grants, awards, prestige, publication, and even livelihoods to their friends. This is no different from other disciplines. It just signifies an entrenched institution, and suggests that those who truly wish to create should seek other avenues.
To my mind, the best purpose of creative writing is not the writer's own catharsis. It is not to engage in self-indulgent sanctimony. It is not to shock or experiment or be "hip." It is not to further an agenda or subvert or antagonize. It is to create beauty, to explore universally felt truths, perhaps known, perhaps unknown, perhaps even unknowable. It is to share interesting ideas, elicit emotion and thought and perhaps, for very few writers and very few readers, truly inspire and ennoble. True poetry is writ in the basement of the mind, seeing unseen.
Unpoetry is what poetry once was, what it should be, what it meant to be. It is all the things we would ask of poetry but are denied by the dotard she has become.
We do not despise Poetry or even dislike her. We must treat her tenderly, as an aged and infirm parent. We remember her as beautiful and kind, our first and truest love —- as she was before the ravages of time and want, before the madness took her. Our neglect is to blame, for we turned from her for too long. At the utmost extremity she was forced to make desperate accommodation, consort with those she swore not to.
Maybe it is from guilt, maybe from pity, but we make allowance for her. Perhaps we even go too far, give too much to one who no longer can recognize her own name. But we have little else to offer than our indulgence. We were raised to the dulcet melody of her once-glorious voice, now a hollow rasp. We owe her this much, but no more.
For we cannot dwell with infirmity and madness, subject to its caprices. We leave her well-cared for, but leave her we must. We keep only photos and keepsakes; they shall remember her to us as she once was. To attend continually on her dotage, would be pointless and foolish. Her inarticulate cries would consume us in grief, draw us into her lunacy. We refuse to be trapped, prisoner and prey, desperately seeking meaning in her gibberings.
We will not be lost in the pits of her eyes, will not allow her later self to take what her earlier self gave. She would regret that more than anything. So we step away, mourn her for a time. Her name will remain hers, that on the door, that on the deed. But no longer shall we dwell with madness. It is time to imbue the world with our own words, to be beauty to another.
This in Unpoetry. What poetry would have liked to be, had it not fallen in with the wrong crowd, ended despairing in the dark.
If it is written sideways on a page in magic marker, it is poetry.
If it is shouted with accents in all the wrong places, it's poetry.
If the author is called brave for confessing such a personal thing, it's poetry.
If it's trite but not poignant, timely not timeless, has no meaning beyond specific names and places and things then it's poetry.
If it adheres to a particular form, shatters boundaries by slightly tweaking it, startles and shocks and horrifies by perverting such norms, it is poetry.
If it's all style and no content, then it's poetry.
As the joke goes, everybody writes poetry and nobody reads it. I wrote a poem about why nobody reads poetry here. Be sure not to read it.
Instead, read some unpoetry. Unpoetry is the future of written thought. I wrote an unpoem about why nobody reads poetry here. Be sure to read it.
If it is short and beautiful and worth reading, it is unpoetry.
If it makes you think, makes you wonder, makes you fear, it is unpoetry.
If it says something you cannot quite grasp but wish to, then it is unpoetry.
If it if it about you and you and you and all the other you's, but not about me, then it is unpoetry.
Unpoetry is what everybody reads but nobody writes. So please go and write some --- if you dare and if you can.
Since you've read up to this point, by definition this cannot be poetry. But since it's being written, it cannot be unpoetry. Or more precisely, the unpoetry begins when the writing stops right about
Just kidding, that was incredibly gimmicky so it must be poetry. Which means you just read poetry, you good-for-nothing poetry-reader. Better go read some unpoetry to cleanse yourself.
As always, forgiveness cannot be earned but can be purchased. You can make a down payment by buying my unpoetry book ....