a good poem, and why your poetry probably sucks

Why Your Poetry Probably Sucks

The first time I brought a poetry collection by Charles Bukowski, the attendant smiled and informed me that she loved his work, but some people found his work underwhelming. It’s a strange thing to hear when discussing one of modern literature’s greatest writers. But that’s the problem with unique ideas. You can carve a lane for yourself, and create the most unorthodox art ever seen, but if nobody understands your execution; you’re doomed to failure. Either that or your poetry probably sucks.

The Psychology of Entertainment

Psychologically speaking, people tend to prefer things they’re used to. Sounds and sights that represent their usual experience provide the most fulfilment. A lot of this has to do with culture and upbringing, but people will inevitably cling to the stuff they know best.

My dad hates rap music, but I love it. As much as I enjoy almost all types of music, Hip-Hop pulls me from a slump and motivates me in whatever task I set out to do. When I need examples of great rhymes or something to relate to my love of writing, I refer to the masters of the genre. Greats like Nas and Jay-Z. But my dad holds no respect for my tastes. And that’s okay, he wasn’t brought up on the music. He doesn’t understand the message. To him, he prefers The Who. To which I’d reply who?

Likewise, with those who prefer classical literature, it may seem implausible that any modern songwriter could compare with someone as revered in the world of poetry. Someone such as Edgar Allen Poe and his world-famous Raven piece might outshine the likes of Nas and his esteemed first album Illmatic. There’s a difference in the language and content, but the writing of both is executed differently, despite the rhymes. The songs on Illmatic are primarily structured with 16 bar verses and a chorus, whereas the raven features 6 lines in a stanza.

It’s not that one is better than the other or more of a significant piece of literature written in the English language. It’s that the tastes and preferences of people differ beyond comprehension. I hate a lot of modern music, despite once believing I’d always be down with the kids. Am I now starting to feel my age, or am I a victim of the very human curse of emotional attachment to my youth?

Hey Ya, and the Power of Habit

“People listen to the Top 40 because they want to hear their favourite songs or songs that sound like their favourite songs.  When something different comes on, they’re offended.  They don’t want anything unfamiliar.”
Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit


“Hey Ya” feels like a song that almost everybody knows although they can’t remember the first time they heard the catchy number. I remember not liking the song when it first came out although I enjoyed OutKast in general. However, the duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi struggled to find airtime on mainstream radio stations worldwide with the smash hit. This was because the song didn’t sound familiar. It was different.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explained how the song came to be sung by everybody despite its early struggles. Radio stations found that male listener who thought they disliked or had grown tired of hearing Celine Dion would not tune out because she sounded familiar.

Radio stations sandwiched a shortened version of the soon to be hit between two popular songs until the song became just as similar. Eventually, the song exploded, and everyone sang along the Andre 3000’s smash hit about telling someone to go away. Even I, who doesn’t like the song, still knows most of the lyrics.

The Problem with Instagram Poets

Three things are certain in life, death, taxes and the internet’s attribution of inspiring quotes to Marilyn Monroe despite never having uttered the words in her life. But now, it seems everyone can string a relatable sentence together, tack it on a colourful background and label it a poem. Now, everyone seems to think poetry is a beautiful font and a well-meaning cliché.

It’s not all bad for Instagram poets, Rupi Kaur, a Canadian poet outsold Homer to become a best-selling poet. Not bad, until you consider the length in time between the two pieces of work. That, plus her collection, Milk and Honey, consisted of no rhyme and single sentences, sometimes one word on a page alongside one of her drawings. Poetry never seemed a great money maker, but Rupi Kaur and her Instagram poetry made her millions and earned her a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 list.

I liked her book, but I found I also found the incredible personal journey easy to read. The problem is easy reads tend to invoke a sense of ease that many believe they can replicate. It’s not that Rupi Kaur is the greatest poet of a generation, or one, who leads the line in terms of modern poetry. She wrote relatable words and released it at the perfect time. In fact, success needs talent, but many more factors, including luck.

In 2019, a writer for Vice attempted to amass a following by posting the worst poetry on Instagram. He’d gained 426 followers in four weeks, and having read the pieces, I must admit, they’re terrible. He even had a few followers sending messages of support and praise, admiring him for helping see them through difficult times. I don’t believe he achieved his goal of writing the worst poetry ever conceived, but he came close. And although I don’t think Rupi Kaur will ever carry the moniker of the greatest writer of all time, she sure is better than a lot of poets on the platform.

The Facebook Breeding Ground

The difference between Instagram poetry and Facebook is openness. Anyone can set up an account on Instagram and begin posting terrible poetry in which people can block, ignore, or comment a load of hate-fuelled messages. However, in the world of closed Facebook groups, rules apply. Rules that prevent open criticism of fellow writers, because as you know, writers are sensitive.

It was a poem on Facebook that inspired this article. It was a terrible poem, at least in my opinion. The piece rhymed, kind of, but the rhythm was off. It was a drag to read and said nothing exciting or new. It felt like a poem I’d read a thousand times by a person who could have been anyone. There was no sense of identity to it. Yet, everyone liked it. That’s the problem with society and the liberal thinking that goes on, on the internet.

Now, I don’t like haters, people who hate everything a person does for no real reason. But I admire those brave enough to point out the flaws in a piece of art. After all, how would any one of us know how to improve our craft if everyone told us we excelled at all times? Everything can be improved, even the greats have their flaws.

So yeah, your poetry probably sucks, but nobody’s going to tell you because how would that look? Who wants to follow an artist with a perceived ego who thinks everything that isn’t theirs is trash? Here’s the truth, we all need to learn, almost every like, comment of praise, or follow, has an ulterior motive. Whether it’s to garner attention or appear supportive for further gain, people click buttons and fuel our self-esteem. And those who like you, probably don’t know what they’re talking about, something just sat right with them.


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