A Field Guide to Bad Poets

By day, I work as the editor at a publishing company. We primarily produce field guides and the like, so I’m pretty familiar with the form. I therefore humbly present this field guide to bad poets. As all reputable field guides also include photographs (or scientific drawings) of the included species, I will use my computer’s webcam to make corresponding faces for each type of poet.

The Confessional Poet



Description: As the name suggests, the confessional poet’s work often discusses the intimate details of that poet’s life. While such work can be quite powerful (see Sylvia Plath and John Berryman), in the hands of an amateur this poetry style is prone to oversharing. Graphic, graphic oversharing. More often than not, it’s really, really boring.

Poetry Subject Matter: Guilt, parents, depression, ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, suicide, trysts, sadness, pretty much anything pertaining to any aspect of reproduction

Range: Ubiquitous, unfortunately.

Population Status: Least Concern.

The Nature Poet

Fishing hat & Stalking the Wild Asparagus (a great book, btw).


Description: As the name implies, the nature poet’s work deals primarily with the natural world and humanity’s place in it. In theory, this is great—and nature poets consistently produce some fine work, but let’s face it, a lot of nature poetry is awful. While all natural settings—even the most barren tundra—no doubt harbor literature-worthy subject matter, not all nature poets can pull it off. Most don’t, and simply produce parochial work of little interest. To wit, a frozen marsh in the middle of a Minnesota winter isn’t the ideal place to write a poem; it’s where you go to freeze to death.

Poetry Subject Matter: the sun, the moon, clouds, water, ducks, the moon, the moon, the moon

Range: Given their often hermetic nature and the fact that so many nature poets live off the grid, data is spotty. However, populations seem to be at least locally common in wild areas such as Big Sur, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, and pretty much any place in Montana.

Population Status: Threatened.

The Neo-Beatnik

I was so high…on this receipt I rolled up.


Description: Often found at open mic nights and poetry readings, these are the assholes who snap their fingers instead of clapping at readings. (Sadly, this actually happens.) Neo-Beatnik readings may also tragically involve live jazz accompaniment and/or bongos.

Poetry Subject Matter: Psychedelic drugs, other writers, poetry, the military-industrial complex

Range: Originally the population centered around City Lights Bookstore, but they have since expanded their range and are now sporadic throughout most metro areas

Population Status: Near Threatened.

The Political Poet

Puppies are corporatists.


Description: No matter what subject the political poet is addressing—they could be discussing puppies—the poem inevitably veers to left-wing politics, especially when couched in the vocabulary of academic postmodernism, e.g. PUPPIES ARE CORPORATIST PATRIARCHAL TOOLS OF THE ONE PERCENT!

Poetry Subject Matter: Hegemony, patriarchy, localism, war, corporations

Range: Nationwide, but especially common online

Population Status: Least concern.

The Slam Poet


Description: The slam poet is out to win points, and they’ll do whatever it takes to win. They’ll shout, cry, even sing in order to convey the drama of their poems, which the words on the page are usually not good enough to do. While some slam poets are quite, quite good, most really, really aren’t.

Poetry Subject Matter: Domestic abuse, racism, anything that’s suitably dramatic; these serious, important subjects are trivialized when they are co-opted in a (vain!) attempt to win points from judges

Range: Throughout the country, especially common in college towns

Population Status: Common.


The Experimental Poet

The song of the prairie wolf/ is impure/ something like an oboe from the mesozoic

Description: You have no idea what they are saying. None. They are writing in English but it makes about as much sense as Esperanto. Every time you read some of their work, you think these people are the reason the public hates poetry.

Poetry Subject Matter: Hermeneutics, whatever the fuck that is.

Range: Largely confined to East and West Coasts.

Population Status: Annoyingly common.


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