Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Reader's Diary #100- Milton Acorn: More Poems For People (up to "When the Ship of Villainy Went Down")

Okay, so it's a low quality cover image. But trust me, if I was to take the time to find a clearer image, it won't make the guy any more attractive.

So I've started by calling the man ugly, where do I go from there? Oh yes. His poetry.

It sucks.

Not my most thought-provoking assessment I know, but thus far it's the worse collection of poems I've read in a very long time. And speaking of long (like that segue?), remember when Scott Thompson said on Canada Reads that a poem "has no business being longer than a page"? He said it rather flippantly, but there's merit to his words. Unlike a novel, which you can read multiple times but don't usually do (or do you?), poems demand at least a second reading, maybe even more. But when they're so long (and in this case filled with ramblings) they don't encourage second reads. I know some people might what to accuse me of being from the 30-seconds or less mindset, caught up in a world of 22-minute sitcom cures and microwaveable pizza, but there is validity to this. Compare it to a novel again for a second. Would you be more likely to sit down and reread War and Peace (1456 pages) or The Napping House (16 pages). I'm not saying shorter is better (and forget the obvious remarks!). But like a shorter book, shorter poems are more inviting to reread and this is even more essential when understanding a poem. Yes, T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" may be superior to Margaret Atwood's "You Fit Into Me" but let's be honest- which of these are most people going to go back and analyze most often? That's right, the less time consuming. But Acorn's problem isn't just LONG poems.

It's also bad poems. Apparently, many of his peers (Purdy, Atwood and others) felt that Acorn was gipped in 1970 when the Governor General's award went instead to Acorn's ex-wife Gwendolyn MacEwen (sounds like a soap opera doesn't it?). Not to worry, the GGs brokedown and gave him the award in 1975 (a la the Jethro Tull/ Metallica Grammy). So appalled were these peers that they came up with their own award, "The Canadian Poetry Award" and named Acorn "The People's Poet" (though I thought that title had already been thrown around again and again beginning with Robbie Burns). The people's poet? The people should be insulted.

Acorn, in what I can only guess was his impression of "the people", writes with intentional spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, etc as he takes up the cause of the working man. The working man should say thanks, but no thanks. It's a little condescending to say the least. Examples? "But the best man don't get ahead anyway", "...to read the paper thuroly", etc. At the beginning of the book, it says "These poems may be used free of charge by anyone serving the cause of Canadian Independence and the cause of working people in any country." Don't you just hate self-appointed heroes? (Am I right Halle Berry?- I know it's an outdated reference. But who cares?)

So these poems offend me on some level. And they're also poorly written. The politics are just too overt. "Hey You Guevera", really? I'm not saying I disagree with his politics, but his poetry won't be winning any subtlety awards. And they ramble, jump from one topic to the next, are frat-boy stupid/crude at times ("And what if you should pick up a strange bone?"), and so on. I haven't found a single redeeming poem yet.

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