Daring to Differ in the World of Poetry

When Dr. McCoy had asked us to find our favorite poem from Angles of Ascent I thought it would be a daunting task as there were so many poems to look through, however after glancing through the anthology, one quickly stood out to me which was Thomas Sayers Ellis’ “All Their Stanzas Look Alike”.

Ellis’ poem stood out to me the most because of its placement on the page. It is not arranged in the “traditional” manner that I have become accustomed to seeing through my educational experiences which is in formal stanzas. What then appealed to me was the content of the poem. Ellis’ poem is calling for diversity not only in poetry but also in society. In this post I will only be focusing on the poetry aspect.

Ellis is calling for poets to break away from the standards that writers are letting control them when writing their poetry. He repeats the line “All their stanzas look alike”, a total of ten times emphasizing that poems have become too similar and changes need to occur in order to make poetry interesting again. Ellis also writes, “All their favorite writers/All their writing programs/All their visiting writers/All their writers-in-residence”. He is saying that writers are going through the same writing processes as one another which is getting boring because it causes them to produce similar content. This reminded me of the idea of recursion that we have been discussing since the beginning of the semester. Ellis is warning against poets returning to the same concepts and producing similar poetry.

Ellis’ concerns about what has become of poetry reminded me of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s story when writing his own poetry. He had become typecast as a poet who wrote in the plantation vernacular and was expected to produce similar poems over and over adhering to white audiences and critics when he really wanted to write other things in “standard” English. When Dr.McCoy had handed out “Lager Beer”, a poem written in German-American dialect by Pffenberger Deutzelheim, the thought that it was written by Dunbar didn’t even cross my mind which in retrospect I felt was a big statement from Dunbar, proving that he doesn’t only have to be known for his work in the plantation vernacular. He showed that he should not be limited to produce what people like and that changing things up is okay. 

Both Thomas Sayers Ellis and Paul Lawrence Dunbar have shown that it is okay to do something different from what is expected when composing poetry. One does not have to adhere to what is popular or considered “traditional” as it will cause poems to become similar to one another which Ellis warns the reader about.  They both aimed to avoid repetition in poetry and dared to be different.

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