So: What is YA poetry?
What isn’t? The classic themes of love, angst, hopes and dreams align perfectly with the classic themes of youth.
Besides, being part of the YA demographic marks one of the last times you can write poetry without having to “be” a poet. Once you get to college, if you write a poem, you’re either a self-consciously self-declared poet, taking courses titled “Washerwoman Poetry of the Mid-17th century,” or you’re just a cheesy sap in love. Get over it, dude, your friends will say. If you write a poem when you’re not YA, people will think you’re stuck in an arrested adolescence, mooning about love, loss, and all the emotions you’re supposed to leave behind when you outgrow the teenaged years.
But until college, poetry is an integrated, unquestioned part of the school curriculum. From age 5 until you take the AP English exam, poetry is just one of the many things you do in your day, like trig or gym class.
When YARN first started up, Kerri and I kept coming back to the question of “What is YA poetry?” Should we define it? Ultimately, we answered no, deciding that we’d treat YA poetry just like all the other genres published in YARN. It is what it is. It’s not a different slice of poetry genre than non-YA poetry simply because it’s written for YA or by YA. The only definition we care about is whether it’s good, and it’s good poetry if it’s good craft and says something good in a good way.
I’m reading David Orr’s book, “Beautiful and Pointless,” right now. The reviews of this book are mixed. Critics dismiss him for being too dismissive of poetry. Fans praise him for acknowledging that many people are dismissive of poetry. (Read this review of the book in the New York Times. It’s a beautifully crafted review, an art form in itself.)
I like the book because I think it speaks well to a YA audience. YAers are still in that blissful stage of life called high school where poetry is still part of day-to-day life, yet those same YAers are about to head out into the big bad world of college or the workforce where it’s cool to question everything’s relevance, and poetry is often seen as the most irrelevant form of art in a world that’s all about the economy stupid. Orr, on the other hand, takes a matter-of-fact, slightly sardonic (dare I say YA?) tone of voice, and demystifies poetry.
Welcome to a new school year, YAers. May you never lose the way you take poetry for granted. May you keep it a part of your daily life, nothing special, nothing rare. Don’t put it up on that high shelf of unreachable, unusable, un-useful art. Keep it kicking around. Keep the poetry real, dude, a real part of your daily life.