In Hans Christian Anderson's story, "The poet who was born too late", previous poets have used up subjects. The poet goes to a fortune-teller who tells him to try her spectacles. He discovers that potatoes, bees, and passersby all have stories to tell. But when he takes the spectacles off he hears nothing. "Write about poetry and you'll be rich," the fortune-teller says.
"We very rarely publish a poem about poems ... There is a kind of self-absorption which is not very appealing" (Tom Clyde, editor of HU in 1995). This seems to be a common view amongst editors - I received the following on a rejection slip: "in the main I'm not interested in poems about poetry. Let the poem exemplify poetry by its technique & register, & be about something else". Poets and readers often distrust the genre too - "Above all, I am not concerned with poetry" (Wilfred Owen). I think that several factors are involved in this viewpoint
- an over-reaction to the dreaded "sonnets about sonnets" fad of centuries ago
- a trend away from "essay poems", especially if they have a didactic component
- a feeling that people only write about poetry when they have run out of things to say
- a lack of interest in technique, and a wish to hide devices
- a wish that poetry could transcend words, escaping from the page into the real world.
- a trend towards confessional poetry and the lyric
Edna Longley has said that every poem worth its salt is in part about poetry, but I see no harm in occasionally using poetry more blatantly as a subject, writing about what you know. Unlike "Custer" say, or a Biblical event, it's a subject with which an international readership might fairly be expected to be familiar (and be interested in). With so many styles, theories and schools of poetry around there is no shortage of subject matter. If nothing else, at least the poem might be educational.
The "anyone can write" tutors who tell pupils that they can write poetry about anything, anything at all, tend not to suggest that people write about poetry technique, though there's an increase in the amount of poetry about poetry workshops, and poetry about writing poetry (Ted Hughes' "The Thought Fox" for example).
- Sonnets about sonnets
- Inner Chimes: Poems on Poetry, Bobbye S. Goldstein (ed), Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 1992.
- The introduction to Jim Murdoch's "Reader please supply meaning"