10.05.2006

Does Poetry Have Genre?

My post yesterday got me thinking about genre in general and poetry in specific. I wondered, Does poetry have genre? Fiction has genre. Music has genre. Film has genre. Do other arts have genre?

In responding to this, it's helpful to go back and review what a genre is. A genre is a subgroup of an art that consists of a series of endlessly replicatable "conventions." In film noir, those conventions were both character archetypes (the hardboiled investigator, the good woman, the femme fatale) and visual elements (shots saturated in high contrast black and white, rainy city streets, perpetual night, dark costumes). The romantic comedy also has easily identifiable conventions: two people who are obviously MFOE (made for each other, if you're not 14), are kept at arm's distance from each other by any number of the following: hatred for each other, career/class difference, other relationships, ethnic backgrounds, family pressures, or physical distance. The beginning of the film should solidify and reify the major relationship blockage; the central portion of the film should complicate or nuance the blockage; and the end of the film should involve one or both characters resolving to move out of the way of the blockage in order to achieve love.

In fiction, the romance genre is so conventional that you can write to a romance novel publisher and receive a simple sheet of plot conventions and character archetypes in crafting your narrative.

With the constant evolution of poetry, with the way it, like film, can eat all other forms of art and spit them out changed, it seems like genre might be a no brainer. But what are the genres of poetry?

As someone who has worked with elegy for about four years (and three books' worth), I'm not convinced that the elegy is a genre. I guess it does have some conventions; it needs, for example, to concern the death of someone or something. Most elegies have a consistent tone, but I wouldn't say that there is a consistent elegaic set of images or words per say.

Forms aren't necessarily genres, although they, too, have physical conventions of meter, rhyme, stanza formation, etc.

Questions...? Comments...? This is an essay I can't finish yet.

6 comments:

  1. I'm inclined to say no, but earlier this year the Beside Guide call for poems reached an erotic writers guild -- many of the members sent poems that were strikingly similar. The poems began with something tingling, throbbing, pulsating between the speaker's legs -- proceeded to describe some hot loving -- and ended by panning to the moon (or stars or heavens) -- just like a movie might end.

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  2. I don't know if poetry has genre, but there's definitely noir in Lynn Emanuel.

    I think elegy, like pastoral, is a genre-and what of dramatic monologue? I don't know if I can find in any of these forms consistency/adherence to convention in imagery,though.

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  3. Is there slick poetry like there is slick fiction? Maya Angelou? She's wildly popular, but literary types don't think much of her poems? And what about Roger Housden (who the hell is he anyway?) who publishes Ten Poems That Can Change Your Life. Is he self-help poetry? And what about Chic-Lit poetry (I didn't coin this phrase and can see its complications.) Poetry that uses the conventions of popular chic-lit fiction? I'm just thinking kind of quickly and may not be getting at exactly what you're talking about. But throwing it out there...Because as a new blogger, I know comments are fun...

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  4. What about long poems as a genre? I'm thinking more of book-length poems rather than say an eight-page poem.

    Would epic poetry be a genre?

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  5. Tee Hee!

    When we say "Lyric Poem" we seem to think we know what that is, just as when we say "Narrative Poem." We also know exactly what an "Epic Poem" is, as we know what a "Formal Poem" should be. That's not to say there aren't sub-categories within each group . . . but is that a genre? Hmmmmm . . .

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  6. My friend Oliver forgot to mention the prose poem (as its brother flash fiction) as a type of poem.

    I wonder if it's helpful to think in terms of poetry collections--as we typically categorize novel fiction into genres, and not short stories... although since I'm not a fiction writer I could be wrong about that.

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