Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lazy Writing

This is actually my column from The Voice two weeks ago but for some reason it didn't go up online so I thought I'd put it here.

I was recently at a poetry reading. People who know me know I love good performance poetry. I cry at good performance poetry. I’m moved, I babble on about it for days. It sits in my mind, bits of it taking up permanent residence. At bad poetry performances I look engaged but am, in fact, either ticking off things I need to do the next day or preparing a mental grocery list. My tolerance level seems to have lowered as of late, though, and on this night in question I didn’t even pretend to be engaged. I was bored -but more than that I was furious.

I’m sick to death of lazy writers or all sorts, poets are just more on my mind as I write this but prose writers should consider themselves warned. For poets, if you have “African queen” or African princess” in your poem I’m talking to you. Yesterday I watched a little girl on My African Dream reciting a poem about how she was “an African child” and I thought shame on you lazy adult poets teaching this young girl that stating the obvious accounts as poetry nowadays. That lazy, clich├ęd writing is okay- it is not.

The words in a poem should be fresh- and please note, this does not mean pulling out your Roget’s and finding as many rhyming, seven letter words as you can and then stringing them in a line and spitting them out in an angry voice while standing in front of the audience very proud of yourself, the audience clapping only because they’re being polite. No one understands anything because what the poet just recited was unintelligible, to the poet as well as anyone forced to be the recipient of it. That’s not poetry- no matter what pretty clothes you put on it.

I will admit I’m not a poet, but I am a word user. I know that writers must respect words if they are to be any good. If you want to stand before us and tell us your mother is an Africa queen, please don’t call yourself a poet. Don’t disrespect poets so blatantly by doing that. A poet struggles and fights with words to find the exact image she wants to create. She will not use old, saggy, overused phrases just to get to the end. She will not use flashy words that leave everyone lost. She wants to carry the listener or the reader to a place that she has created and then she says “Look”.

Good poetry is fresh. The words crackle in the air and hush all thoughts that try to invade its stage. When silence comes and the words are finished the images and their echoes reverberate through the ether tickling at the audience members’ minds forcing them to think. Nobody thinks when the African queen takes centre stage, believe me.

Please folks, I beg of you, if we are to make any progress, let’s respect the words. Let’s work at our art. Laziness has no place in writing.


Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Very true, Lauri! Lazy writing makes for awfully boring reaing or listening.

But how does one establish when an author/poet is being lazy versus being an amateur? To an amateur, discovering the joys of writing for the first time, opening up those virgin channels of creativity, those stock phrases - that to a more experienced wordsmith may be cliched - could appear as fresh as a daisy.

It doesn't make the lazy writing any better to listen to or read, but it does make it more understandable. The key issue is really what you raised: from the start of their writing journey, those budding wordsmiths - no matter what their age - need to be taught the difference between fresh creative work, which springs from their inner well of perceptions, and regurgitated cliches, such as 'I am an African Princess' or, my pet hate, 'his eyes twinkled.'

A great thought-provoking post!

Sue Guiney said...

Ooh. Here, here, my dear. Hear, hear!

Lauri said...

Judy- I think you're right. When I wrote this I was pretty annoyed but yes, sometimes it is being new to the job. God knows I still have my share of lazy writing. But the thing is people must always strive to improve. What you find in Botswana, because my column is targetting Batswana writers, is that we are few and it is easy to get to the top of the pack and then relax with your lazy writing. We will never get anywhere if we keep doing that, this was where my thoughts came from.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Yes, Lauri, too true. Success could breed the complacency that leads to lazy writing. Vigilance and awareness would become more, not less, important once one is published, and it's good to call attention to it to raise awareness. :)

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. There is a lot of laziness out there and not just in the writing world. Great article!

tj dema said...

From a contextual point of view *I live in Botswana and am a poet amongst other things* it's true there's a lot of room left for improvement that could be filled(or at least met halfway)with mentoring and even occasional-once off-workshops. And because of its brevity and by extension its potential instant crowd pleaser power - (performance) poetry is in my opinion one of the 'fastest growing' creative forms in Botswana and while I'm very, very pleased that every Thabo, Thato and Tumelo is drawn to this beautiful craft I am adamant that we need to be as quick to praise as we are to say wait-a-minute-lets-have-a-second-look-at-that...with red pen/keyboard at the ready

Lauri said...

TJ you are right- little has been done to help our writers and poets. I get constant emails requesting guidance, part of why I write my column every week is my limited attempt to address this. But as you say, none of us must rest on our laurels, we must all be constantly trying to improve and where we can pull others with us.