Kristen Stewart is a movie star. She is an accomplished professional actress. She stars as Bella in the Twilight movies. For some people, those movies epitomize vapidness. Teen romances about a young girl caught in a love triangle, torn by feelings of attraction between a vampire and a werewolf, clearly intended primarily for audiences of teen-aged girls. I’ve only seen one of them; it was okay. I rather think that I’m not the demographic for which these movies are intended to appeal.
But I’ve seen her in other movies in which I thought she was terrific. I liked her as a troubled teen in In the Land of Women, as rocker Joan Jett in The Runaways, as a self-destructive young woman in Adventureland, as a seriously messed up girl in On the Road. That’s what she’s been good at, at playing young women who don’t know who they are or what they want, and who engage in self-destructive behavior as a result. Is she a ‘good actress?’ I would say that she’s a very good actress with a rather limited range, but very effective within that range.
And now, she’s written a poem. She read it aloud on the Marie Claire website, and it was published in the magazine. Here it is. Or, if you don’t want to link, here:
My Heart Is A Wiffle Ball/Freedom Pole
I reared digital moonlight
You read its clock, scrawled neon across that black
Kismetly … ubiquitously crest fallen
Thrown down to strafe your foothills
…I’ll suck the bones pretty.
Your nature perforated the abrasive organ pumps
Spray painted everything known to man,
Stream rushed through and all out into
Something Whilst the crackling stare down sun snuck
Through our windows boarded up
He hit your flint face and it sparked.
And I bellowed and you parked
We reached Marfa.
One honest day up on this freedom pole
Devils not done digging
He’s speaking in tongues all along the pan handle
And this pining erosion is getting dust in
And I’m drunk on your morsels
And so I look down the line
Your every twitch hand drum salute
Salutes mine …
And the response has been snarky, funny, mean, and very very negative. It’s been called, for example, the worst poem of all time. I think you’d be hard-pressed to write a more negative review than that one.
Well: I like it. I like Kristen Stewart’s “My Heart is a Whiffle Ball/Freedom Pole.” I think she should just pick one image for her title, and not crowd two in there. But the poem itself is intriguing, and by no means terrible. I think it’s inventive and free and playful. And bizarre, but that’s okay, poems can be bizarre.
I really think that a lot of the negativity comes from the fact that Kristen Stewart wrote it. I think the logic goes like this: Kristen Stewart is a rubbish actress who does rubbish movies, and that means she has to be vapid and stupid, and how dare she, of all people, write a poem, so it’s rubbish.
What constitutes a good poem, or a great poem, or a bad poem? If our standard is notoriety/fame/reputation, then all poems by Emily Dickinson are, by definition, masterworks, and all poems by Kristen Stewart are, by definition, terrible. What if this were the first stanza of Stewart’s poem?
Wild Nights. Wild Nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild Nights should be
Rowing in Eden.
Ah, the sea.
Might I but moor
Tonight with thee!
Imagine the uproar! The snark! Imagine the roars of laughter! She’s writing about Robert Pattinson! She wants to ‘moor’ with him! Hardy har har har.
Except that’s Emily Dickinson.
I recently helped judge a poetry contest. I can’t, for reasons of confidentiality, say any more about it than that. What I can tell you, with 100% confidence and assurance, is that Kristen Stewart’s poem is NOT the worst play ever written. That I have, quite recently, read literally dozens of poems much much worse than hers. Wish I could quote you some. Really, I do.
Of course, poetry is subjective, and of course, there’s no good way to tell people who love them that “The Touch of the Masters Hand” or “It takes a Heap of Livin’ in a House to Make it Home” are just flat out not good poems. Some people love them, are moved by them, like hearing them read aloud. They’re recitation poems, intended for public performance, like “The Cremation of Sam McGee” or “Casey at the Bat.” That’s also true of cowboy poetry, which I read for pleasure and think is wonderful. People used to memorize those rhyming story poems, and some still use them in talks, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I may feel like Yeats’ poetry, or Phillip Larkin’s, or Auden’s, or Lance Larsen’s are all, in some real sense, ‘better.’ But that involves the kind of judgment that generally makes me uncomfortable–judging my brothers and sisters on this planet for a supposed lack of sophistication or a failure in taste.
In fact, Kristen Stewart loves beatnik poetry, loves the generation of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. She’s expressed a love for the poetry of Richard Brautigan. There’s some Sylvia Plath going on there too. Her imagery is wild, her use of language idiosyncratic, like you’d find in the best work of the beats. A line like Kismetly … ubiquitously crest fallen, Thrown down to strafe your foothills …I’ll suck the bones pretty could come straight from Ginsberg.
It’s a scary thing, to publish a poem, to lay it out there for the public to rip apart or embrace. I applaud her courage, both in writing poetry and in sharing it. She’s young, and the poem is unpolished. But there’s some real talent there, some real energy and love for language. She reads good poets, and she responds to the energy in their work. I hope she keeps going.
As for all the people who hate it, hey, it’s a free country. But are people really responding to the work itself, or to the fact that a movie star (by definition idiots all) wrote it? Haters gotta hate, and I say, shame on you.