Is Poetry For Old People?

Is Poetry For Old People?

I’m a young writer. Well, up to a point. I’m young (17) and I write (novels being just one facet of that, this blog being another).

Quite often, these two aspects of my existence are lumped together, and not in a good way. A ‘young writer’ means a ‘new writer’ or an ‘inexperienced writer’ or a ‘practising writer’ or even a ‘bad writer’. Never mind that people of any age can be a ‘new’ writer (and what counts as new? I’ve been writing novels for four and a half years, but I’ve been writing stories far longer than that), or can have varying levels of experience. And of course, it means nothing to these critics that teens can and have been published, both traditionally and independently.

But that’s about prose, and novels, and stories, and I genuinely believe that that world is changing so that young people are becoming recognised, and older writers are realising that we can write just as well as many of them — or at least, shouldn’t be dismissed because of our youth.

Poetry is an entirely different kettle of fish.

A recently Freshly Pressed post had a mention of a 17-year-old poet. In this post, the writer mulled over the relative inexperience of this girl, and how this caused them to be prejudiced against them, before realising that they weren’t even looking at the poems on their own merit. (They also went on to talk about one’s personal experiences impact on how we read things, which is definitely true.)

I’ve talked about life experience before. So I’m not going to repeat everything I said there. Just this: “In the end, the experiences I have had are more important for writing than the ones I haven’t had.”

I’ve been writing a lot of poems recently. Some of them can be found floating around the internet, although not my best ones, which I’m keeping hidden in a folder on my computer. Why? Well, because Charley is nagging me to publish them and while my initial reaction was to say “Nah, that’s pretentious” and “anyone can write poems”, I’ve started thinking about it. So they’re going to stay under wraps for a while.

The thing is, I know that a lot of my poems are angsty. I appreciate that and expect it. Many of them I wrote deliberately angry or stressed out or sad, because that was the emotion I wanted to portray. For me, they’re deeply personal, and every single one comes from an aspect of my own life, even if it has been changed or altered to give it poetic value. My poems are my struggles and my thoughts, and while I know that other people can appreciate them (as some of my friends have read them), I also know that there are lines only I will understand, as only I know what I was thinking when I wrote it.

As a result, I know that somebody reading it might think of lines as pretentious. Or childish. Because they don’t understand the context, and they don’t know what’s going on in my life that I might be writing about. Because they assume that youth means poetry is going to be overwrought and without any poetic value.

Maybe it is. Maybe I’ll come back to them in a few years and feel the same.

But I’m not so sure. Because I’m at the point where I read my poems and 70% of them I hate, but there are 30% that I’m willing to keep, even if they need a bit of work before I’ll let people read them. When I was younger, I enjoyed everything I wrote. Now I’m more discerning.

Surely that’s a sign that I’ve improved?

I can’t imagine that I’ll get to 18 and simply because I’m a legal adult, my poetry will ‘grow up’ and be instantly different. So many poets started young that I don’t understand why still we associate “17-year-old poet” with “pretentious” and, more often these days, “hipster”.

Maybe we just like to express ourselves through verse.

14 thoughts on “Is Poetry For Old People?

  1. I think the issue with poetry and young people is that those who fancy themselves writers without any real interest in the practice will use poetry as an attention-seeking device. Likewise, the teenage mind, being the hormone infested pitfall to life that it is, is liable to produce more extreme feelings at a time when these feelings are less credible due to the aforementioned hormonal overload.

    Essentially, though, it does all boil down to prejudice. Just because the author was a 30-something year old man who died over two hundred years ago doesn’t mean his poetry is more credible than anyone else’s. Emotion and the expression thereof is very human, but with poetry, because of that arguably more deeply personal note than prose can put forward, the reader judges the author when they try and work out what was going on with them in order to produce the poem. Learning that the poet is an angsty youngster rather than a cobweb-strewn old prude reflecting on life will have an inevitable effect on the work.

    That said, I do believe the quality of a poem can trump most of these works. Those who want to read poetry are, ultimately, there for the poetry in the end.

    1. I think people who like poetry will seek it out, but it’s often the first barrier — people reading it in the first place — that’s the problem. If people won’t believe in it enough to publish it, no one is going to read it, right? And poetry fans are quite often rather snobbish … though mainly the poetry fans I know are total hipsters, so… ehehe :)

      1. Heh heh, true. There ARE other poetry fans out there, it’s just those other more discriminatory communities who are more vocal and thus get more attention.

  2. *nudges* The link that I think is supposed to be for the Freshly Pressed post just links to Frank Turner on Spotify. xD

    I read this at just the right time – I’ve been trying to write a sonnet lately and usually I don’t bother with poetry. (Nothing against it, but I’d rather read it than write it, and would rather read prose than poetry.) I don’t care how old the author was or how long ago something was written until I’ve read it and decided whether or not I like it. But I don’t think, “Oh, that was written by a 13-year-old. It’s bound to be pretentious/bad/filled with spelling errors.” YOU NEVER KNOW UNLESS YOU READ IT.

  3. I’d love to see some of your poems sometime (if you’d like to post them or e-mail them to me), but I understand if you’d like to keep them private.

    I like poetry, though I mostly just do it for fun or as a warm-up exercise before working on my novels. I never really considered becoming a poet, because being an author always sounded so much more appealing to me. I’ve won my local library’s poetry contest twice, but both times I was surprised when I heard I was one of the finalists, whether it was because I didn’t think the poem was that good or because I thought if one poem WERE to win, it would’ve been the other one.

    I totally agree with you: only we–as authors–will understand why we wrote what we wrote. Some of my favorite poems or pieces of writing that I’ve written have never won a contest or have even been liked by certain people. I like having secrets that I don’t have to share with anyone. I’ve always said that my characters are my best friends, and in the end they’re the only ones I can share the secret with. ;)

    1. Well, I’m seriously considering the idea of publishing some of my poetry later this year (Summer/early Autumn), so I can’t be sending it to everyone now or there’ll be no one left to buy it! Ehehe :)
      As for secrets, I both love them and detest the feeling of not being able to talk to anybody, which can be stressful.

      1. Ooh, I’d buy your poetry! (Seeing as I already love your writing).

        Sometimes I think, “Ooh, I should tell so-and-so about exactly what I was thinking when I wrote this!” Then I take a second to breathe and realize that they won’t understand what I’m saying at all. I’ve tried to let people in on secrets before and usually end up wishing I had kept my big mouth shut. (I talk WAYYYYY too much).

        1. I often write them in documents for my own use only … and then accidentally attach them to messages to the person they’re about. *headdesk* Okay, that only happened once, but it was this week, so I haven’t got over it yet.

          1. Oh no! I’ve texted the wrong people before, but it wasn’t anything really bad. (Was it really bad)?

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

%d bloggers like this: