Tag: professionalism

Poetry is Not A Profession: A Few Thoughts on The Poem Assessor

by on Jun.13, 2013

So I went off the internet for like a day yesterday because I had sad friends scattered throughout the city and I thought I could make better use of my time in cheering them up than in sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen. I was right. After a day of walks in the park, cigarettes on various fire escapes, and experiments in cooking with balsamic-truffle oil glaze and teeny tiny bowtie pasta, I settled into my room to paint and edit poems for an hour before the very reasonable hour at which I went to bed.

Which is why I woke this morning at 6 AM to read my horoscopes and check my e-mail and saw that I had been tagged or mentioned in a bunch of things across social media outlets regarding this “Poem Assessor” business.

Remember like, a year-and-a-half ago when that I Write Like thing was super popular? I just analyzed the above paragraph and it said I write like H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a cute party game for when you’re really, really bored. And the people behind I Write Like were clearly just having fun and trying to bring a little culture to the webgame table. I played it a bunch that one week it was cool, had a few laughs, and promptly forgot about it.

Yesterday I had some poems go up on Similar:Peaks::, which is one of the few things keeping me really engaged in any kind of poetry community outside of my actual close friends. This morning I learned that some of the good folks behind SP were upset because The Poetry Assessor(s) were rating poems from their site and tweeting the scores. So I logged onto twitter and I looked at the conversation and it was annoying. They gave my poem “Red Mess” a 2.5 on their scale, equivalent to that awarded to Plath’s “Crossing the River,” which they use as an example on their website. I put in another poem from the same manuscript and it scored like, a -1.8 (positive scores being “professional,” negative scores being “amateur”), and then put in poems by poets I really like and saw that most of the poems written by people I love in real life scored on the positive end of the spectrum. I was like wow, I have great taste in people if everyone I love is a Professional Poet.

The Poem Assessor uses an algorithm (described in detail here) that defines whether or not a poem is “professional” based on word choice, variety of vocabulary, sound devices, and conveyance of emotion. The study notes that professional poems are more optimistic than amateur poems, which is obviously false because every single poem by a friend I entered that got a positive score was super sad.

What’s bothersome about this is not the existence of The Poem Assessor nor the inadequacy and obvious failings of its systems (the whole point of poetry is that it’s human – now go ahead, someone, tell me about how we should let computers do it because that’s avant-garde) – poetry exists and is necessary because society requires that a measure of its humans put time and effort into exploring the interaction between the internal and external worlds, creating bodies in which a fusion of the two can exist. What irks me is this attempt to define the Professional Poem/Poet.

Here’s a lesson I learned hard and well: Poetry is not a profession. It is not a career and it is not an investment. It’s a vocation, like becoming a priest. You don’t have to give up sex thank god but you have to give up a lot of other stuff, like dignity and a solid sense of self. No one in their right mind would do it unless they had no other option. That’s why there’s a lot of sucky poetry in this realm of the “professional” – you can’t filter out insincerity with a paradigm. You have to have the blood on your hands.

Poets of the world, “Professional” and “Amateur” alike, don’t get upset about what The Assessor says. In a week we’ll all be making those paper cootie-catchers embossed with the names of poets we want to sleep with or something.

The end.





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