Pop vs High Poetry

Upon reading poems from Duffy’s Mean Time shed light on Duffy’s comment on how Mean Time is more traditional and The World’s Wife is more popular. I am not a poetry expert but there are a few things that even I noted. The poem in Mean Time that drew my attention the most was “Confession.” In “Confession” and many other poems in the tome, the most obvious difference between these poems and in World’s Wife the lack of an obvious rhyme. As Dr. Croxall pointed out contemporary poetry in the literary tradition does not usually rhyme. Poems of Mean Time clearly fit this criteria. Furthermore there was a difference in the what I will call the “rhythm” of the poem. I will use “Confession” as my example. In the poem each line ends in what feels like the middle of a statement or phrase. The line will end with the first word of the phrase it continues into. Examples like: “Come away into this dark cell and tell, your sins….” or “Just how bad have you been there’s no water, in hell…”

This sort of rhythm and the lack of rhyme scheme may be off putting to a reader of popular literature. It would require recalibration of your mind to get used to reading such poetry for leisure. As far as the actual content of the poem I did not think a poem such as “Confession” or “Pilate’s Wife” had anything striking that would instantly make me think of “high vs low poetry.” I saw similarities like her play with the phrase “Mother of God” in “Confession” similar to “My God” in “Pilate’s Wife.”

This brings me to an interesting thought: In “high” vs “low” poetry how much do form versus content make the difference. I assume there is a little bit of each but it seems to me in comparing these two tomes by Duffy, the form seems to be more of the defining force than the actual images or messages the poem conveys.


7 Comments on “Pop vs High Poetry”

  1. Lisa Park says:

    I agree that the form of the poetry seems to be the stronger difference. At least for me, the poems in Mean Time had more complex language and structure, so that they were harder for me to read and understand than the ones in The World’s Wife.

  2. Tarun Ramayya says:

    What do you mean by High vs Low poetry?

    If you mean that some poems are more sophisticated than others (in terms of rhyme scheme, content, etc), then I think I would err toward not categorizing poems as such.

    In my opinion, each of Duffy’s poems have their own merit, whether one is more “sophisticated” or not. I think, by dismissing some poems as “low poetry”, we may overlook important things about the low poem that would make some people consider it as a high form of poetry.

    Darwin’s Wife is a good example of this. It seems like such a simple poem, but as we’ve talked about it more, there is much more to it than expected.

  3. Peter Marcinkowski says:

    I think that the rhythm is very important to classifying the type of poem. Poetry can be compared to music. Many pop songs use a series of verses of predictable rhythms, then between each verse, they use a hook or a refrain. This predictable, easy to listen to style appeals to the mainstream audience. However, less popular, more “artsy” forms of music tends to have much less predictable, standard, rhythms. Instead of listening to the music for the rhythm, one listens to the music for the expression of the artist or the creativity of the artist. The appeal of a more “artsy” poem seems to be the same. It is not about the rhythm, it is about the expression.

  4. Chelsea Edwards says:

    I agree with Peter and Tarun. I believe Duffy’s two collections do represent two different poem styles: one more modern and the other more traditional. I think you could also call them pop vs artsy, respectively. However, I do not think high vs. low art is fair. Each collection serves a distinct and separate purpose. World’s Wife is popular because it is relateable, familiar, and written in common prose. Whereas Mean Time uses a more classy and artsy style. I believe our generation should be able to appreciate both forms of art. Both forms are sophisticated, creative, and admirable if you look at their deeper meaning. Despite the difference use of real-life vs. elevated diction both works sufficiently address topics like morality, love, and betrayal.

  5. Ani Deshpande says:

    Popular = Low.

    Artsy = High.

    Call it what you want. I wasn’t saying one is better than the other.

  6. Daniel Crispino says:

    I really enjoy the simplistic, almost colloquial style of poetic writing that Duffy uses, but I would agree with some of the other comments that labeling it as “low poetry” is not entirely fair. It’s simply different, at least, from what many of us are used to reading. I also think this has nothing to do with how modern her style of poetry is, for older poets such as e.e. cummings also used little rhyme scheme or rhythm in his avant-garde works.

  7. Michael Bolleter says:

    I’m not sure why this bothers me, but this isn’t a tome. When you drop a tome it makes a “Thudd” as it smashes into the floor.

    I agree with the other commenters that high vs. low poetry are somewhat distinct genres of poetry. With today’s high poetry being less rhythm and dare I say, written for a more intellectual audience. Whereas low poetry flows and appeals to a broad audience.

    Of course these are rough groupings and there are lots of cross-overs similar to songs that combine distinct music genres like pop and rock, or whatever.

    I have no idea if this is the case, but I get the feeling that the “high” vs “low” distinction revolves around trying to get the benefactors of poetry feel good about themselves and promote poetry. I think it would be easier to pitch/get a sponsor for my poetry if my style was describes as “high” implying that it rises above the rest of the rabble.