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Take the Poetry Poll and Pass it On

By Catherine Halley

In response to Travis’s last post, Iain says: “I’d be very interested in a poll that asked people what stereotypes they associate with poetry and poets.”
So would we. So let’s ask that question far and wide:
What stereotypes do you associate with poetry and poets?

Comments (31)

  • On March 27, 2009 at 12:52 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    As everybody knows, poets are pretentious, pedantic old WASP fuddy-duddies, on the moldy side of 50, who work as clerks in dreary college libraries, & who spend way too much time chatting about trifles on poetry blogs like Harriet.
    Ha! What a silly stereotype that is! OK, back to cataloging….

  • On March 27, 2009 at 1:21 pm the regina mom wrote:

    Hmm…I though poets dress in black, smoke ciggies and pot, and drink copious amounts of red wine.
    Now, where’s that bottle? 😉

  • On March 27, 2009 at 1:59 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Whiskey, my friend. It’s whiskey! You ain’t no kind of poet if you don’t drink whiskey.

  • On March 27, 2009 at 2:38 pm mearl wrote:

    The man in the macintosh at Paddy Dignam’s funeral, M’Intosh as the newspaper reporter misinterprets – a kind of mystery mourner.

  • On March 27, 2009 at 2:51 pm Brenda Schmidt wrote:

    Stereotypes! Say it ain’t so!

  • On March 27, 2009 at 5:41 pm denis wrote:

    Why doesn’t the Poetry Foundation pay another $5 million dollars to repoll America–isn’t that what you do? Didn’t you ask this question the first time round? Oh, and you pay elementary teachers to make their students memorize poetry to save poetry. You do that, too. Hey, just curious, John Barr suggested that “going on safari” was the best way that contemporary poets could reconnect with the real America. Would he suggest the same thing to AIG bigwigs, Cathy? Should they go on safari in Africa to reconnect with America? Hey, Cathy, just curious, but–how much of Ruth Lily’s money has John Barr lost?

  • On March 27, 2009 at 6:27 pm Jason Guriel wrote:

    They never just say what they mean.

  • On March 27, 2009 at 6:39 pm JK wrote:

    Poets live in a world different from all others- A world of angst, drama, romance, always talking in prose and always in a state of deep thougt. Stereotypes?

  • On March 27, 2009 at 7:05 pm RIchard Villar wrote:

    Throw a rock at the most oddly dressed person in the room.
    CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve injured a poet!

  • On March 27, 2009 at 8:14 pm Paul wrote:

    An older lady recently retired from teaching who is looking to explore her spirituality and creativity. A pseudo left wing intellectual who uses language to demonstrate he is smarter than everyone else to compensate for the fact that he is universally disliked among the faculty.
    An adolescent with torturous insecurities who uses poetry as a form of selfexpression therapy.
    And so on, it’s a long list these days.

  • On March 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm Uriel wrote:

    Has a Welsh accent, wears Wellies in sunshine, quotes Yeats but attributes it to Auden and can read and watch (they have poetry films) the new Horizon Review in one sitting.

  • On March 29, 2009 at 9:04 am thomas brady wrote:

    1. Is an exile longing for more exile
    2. Works for something much bigger than himself: God, Queen, East India Co, Lloyds Bank, Hartford Insurance, the Iowa Writers Workshop
    3. Writes Science Fiction Screenplays just in case
    4. Is a highly gregarious recluse
    5. Is a sexy nerd
    6. Is a fastidious slob
    7. Is a lie-down comic
    8. Only counts when reading
    9. Only reads what counts
    10. Is smarter than you

  • On March 29, 2009 at 11:42 am AW wrote:

    When you throw that rock, do me a favor, Villar: throw it hard.

  • On March 29, 2009 at 12:15 pm Red wrote:

    Poets: Much like theater people — yet somehow more annoying; irresponsible, narcissistic, prone to histrionics, mostly worthless.

  • On March 29, 2009 at 2:43 pm Gustave Flaubert wrote:

    Poet: pompous synonym for fool, dreamer.
    Poetry: entirely useless; out of date.

  • On March 29, 2009 at 3:17 pm Ian wrote:

    I have just been watching a video of a poetry convention. For some reason a woman felt the need to read her poetry wearing Elizabethan clothes/hair and lie on her front on a four poster bed. She was speaking in a very mannered/’Victorian’ way. There seems to be a tendency for some poets at these conventions to wear brightly coloured outfits like some kind of Victorian showman or some kind of medieval medicine man/woman or magician. Yet all the established/professional poets are wearing normal everyday clothes and look very much like they belong to the present.
    My question is how does this woman transport her four poster bed to her poetry readings? It would not fit in the back of a van and it would take several people to lift it or assemble it. Perhaps one of those trucks that car enthusiasts use to transport their classic cars?

  • On March 29, 2009 at 4:40 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    The variety of poets these days actually defies stereotype, but the only true one living still among us is he who leaves three roses and a half-bottle of cognac on Edgar Allan Poe’s grave every year on his birthday.
    (They’ll never catch me!)

  • On March 29, 2009 at 9:32 pm Glenn Ingersoll wrote:

    You’re really interested in hearing people’s stereotypes about poets?
    You are? What is it about stereotypes you find interesting?

  • On March 30, 2009 at 2:11 pm RichardHowardNemerov wrote:

    Trust funds. It’s not true that every poet has one. I know a couple of poets who don’t, though I don’t see them much, since they’re always at work.

  • On March 30, 2009 at 4:59 pm thomas brady wrote:


    Defying stereotypes is interesting.

    So, stereotypes are interesting.


  • On March 30, 2009 at 8:46 pm Gail White wrote:


  • On March 30, 2009 at 8:51 pm Gail White wrote:

    (Third attempt – I keep getting cut off!)

    Stereotypical poet:
    1. Drinks a lot or does drugs.
    2. Has serial lovers, lots of sex.
    3. Doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks.
    4. Has no money.

    In reality:
    1. True only in New Orleans.
    2. Most of the poets I know are as chaste as altered cats.
    3. OBSESSED with what other people think.
    4. True, always and forever.

  • On March 31, 2009 at 12:04 am Bradley Paul wrote:

    Let’s not forget Matt Groening’s classic characterization of poets in “Life in Hell”: Weird lips.

    Also, he accurately points out the best way to annoy a poet:

    Be another poet.

  • On March 31, 2009 at 1:00 am Arthur Durkee wrote:


    Contentious, argumentative, touchy, ego-driven, fame-obsessed, theory-bound, think too much or feel too much but rarely both in balance, prickly, annoyed by other poets (Groening was right), self-obsessed or at least self-absorbed, did we mention argumentative?, prefer to talk rather than listen, like the sound of their own voices, always “on stage” in many cases, narcissistic.

    Oh wait, no. That’s the real thing.

  • On March 31, 2009 at 2:21 pm Miriam Levine wrote:

    I think poets are brave, but my first encounter with a negative stereotype of the poet was the comedian Ernie Kovac’s character “Percy Dovetonsils.” Percy lolled on a couch and lisped. He told us he was speaking to us from “just beyond the bookends.” He wore glasses the lenses of which were dizzying spirals. He drank wine, too much of it. He would gesture with limp wrists. Not a guy-guy type to be sure. Doesn’t this stereotype still exist? As for women poets? What do you think? I was told I don’t live in the real world. I was told I was “ga-ga,” a creature flitting around the world with her mouth hanging open in amazement.

  • On March 31, 2009 at 10:42 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Poets like to commit suicide but they are usually not that successful. In fact several well-known poets have attempted to hang themselves but were unssuccssful in their attempts, thus proving that most poets can tie a knot to save their lives.

  • On April 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    white female stereotype: ditzy and harmless

    white male stereotype: pedantic and dull

    poet of color stereotype (both sexes, any ethnicity):
    angry and loud

  • On April 2, 2009 at 3:25 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    French stereotype: effete and gourmand

    Asian stereotype: wise and contemplative

    Latin American stereotype (male): virile and engaged

    Latin American stereotype (female): silent (goes for most other nationalities, female, also)

    formalist stereotype: uptight and republican

    L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E. stereotype: Marxist and combative

    free verse stereotype: self-absorbed and conventional

    These are needless to say not my own stereotypes but I think they are fairly prevalent. . .

    I agree with Gail on the “no money” stereotype which seems to be one of the few characteristics that cuts across all other stereotypical qualities . . .

  • On April 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    A few more:

    British poet stereotype (both sexes): snobby and arcane

    Russian poet stereotype (male): dramatic and charismatic

    street poet stereotype: verbose and earnest

    I’m surprised how many of these stereotypes are so clear in my head, when, even as I write each one, I think immediately, without even trying, of numerous poets who disprove the stereotypes completely. And yet the stereotypes remain in some kind of realm of received reality. Where did they all come from I wonder–and when will they leave?

  • On April 8, 2009 at 3:29 pm Catherine Halley wrote:

    You all forgot HOT!

  • On April 16, 2009 at 11:15 am troylloyd the platenpounder wrote:

    not exactly a stereotype, but an interesting tidbit i came acrosss:

    amongst the “liberal arts” social makeup (artists, dancers, singers, poets, musicians etc.), poets claim the highest suicide rate.

    i dunno how this was arrived at, but the info i came across also stated that poets who use “me” in their writing, as opposed to poets who use “we” more often,
    are more likely to commit suicide.

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, March 27th, 2009 by Catherine Halley.