Kristen Stewart I’m Sorry I Mocked Your Poem

'Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2' film photocall, Los Angeles, America - 02 Nov 2012Earlier this week the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of poets and poetry fans were buzzing all about Kristen Stewart. Yes, the Twilight Kristen Stewart. Like many other celebrities before her she dared to venture out of her world to stepped briefly into the poetry world. During an interview with the magazine Marie Claire she revealed that she wrote poems, and the magazine’s web site posted one online (read it here). It was even discussed this morning on BBC Radio.

Of course it was not a particularly good poem, but it wasn’t bad either. In fact there were a few really startlingly bright spots. It was the kind of poem a 20-something who probably hasn’t had a lot of (or any) formal instruction in poetry or probably even much exposure to poetry, would write. It’s surreal, a little trippy, murky and plain weird.

So after I and lots of other people who take poetry seriously mocked, sighed and wagged our virtual fingers at the gall of a movie celebrity venturing into our territory without years of practice, vetting and disappointment, I looked back at what I was writing at 23.

When I was her age I was an undergraduate English major. I was trying every way I knew how to immerse myself in poetry (reading constantly, attending poetry readings, drinking cheap wine with other student writers, showing up to class sometimes…), but I was also writing crappy poems. Sometimes they even got published in small journals that no longer exist. But they were still really crappy. They never attracted a micron of the attention that Stewart’s Marie Claire poem did in the first 10 minutes the post was live.

A friend I went to grad school with commented on the poem by saying that someone at Marie Claire opened a window for her and told her to jump, and she jumped. She didn’t show up to the interview  to talk about poetry (I assume, unless this is the beginning of some James Francoesque campaign to rebrand herself). She even admitted to the magazine that it was “pretty embarrassing.”

Yes, that says it well. She jumped, fearlessly more or less (a celebrity probably has less to fear from something like this than other people).

Stewart has been living on movie sets since she was a little girl. She’s surrounded by people who tell her she’s a star. She has millions of fans who want to live her life. Is it any surprise that when she steps out of her safe zone that the result is a bit under-developed?

What prompted my initial reaction, and probably those of most of the other poets who read her piece, is a mix of jealously (her poem was read by millions) and a sense of being invaded—this is our room, why can’t those movie folks stay out! Poets have such a hard time getting attention for their work that when someone uses their celebrity status to jump to the head of the line it pissed them (us) off.

But that’s not really fair or what happened here. I’m sorry Kristen Stewart. You didn’t do anything to deserve the mocking. If admitting that you like poetry gets a few more young people to like poetry, that’s probably good thing for all of us.

However, I will still mock James Franco. I just can’t help myself—anyone involved in Spring Breakers deserves all the mocking that comes to them.

Follow me on Twitter @UnIambic

You can find my newest book Necessary Myths here.

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9 thoughts on “Kristen Stewart I’m Sorry I Mocked Your Poem

  1. Dear Kristen Stewart,

    I’m a poet and professor at UCLA, and thought you might be interested in what some of my poet friends (most of whom also teach and are otherwise very accomplished) and I have been writing on Facebook about your recent poem published in Marie Claire. This is partly to address the apparently universal opinion by journalists – most of whom seem to not know anything about literature – that this is a terrible poem.

    My own initial post went like this: “The second stanza isn’t horrible. Worst part of the poem are those awful adjectives! Stupid Beats.” What I meant by this was that the words “digital” (applied to moonlight), “scrawled” when linked to “neon” (neon is a much overused word by poets who want to sound like Beatniks) and “abrasive” (applied to organ pumps) weren’t working for me. I also didn’t like the word “ubiquitously” especially since everything up until that point was in the singular – ubiquitously seems to suggest some sort common element among many parts. Not a big fan of “Whilst” either.

    But I thought the second stanza was very delicate with sound play – “parked” and “Marfa” are good off-rhymes (I heard the word “barf” in there somehow) and there is some nice alliteration in “Devils not done digging / He’s speaking in tongues all along the pan handle / and this pining erosion…” etc. And I like the broken syntax and quick movements in perspective – there’s little to no punctuation and most people can’t pull that off. And the line “He’s speaking in tongues all along the pan handle” is very evocative to me – and seems to explain some of the eccentricities of syntax and vocabulary in the first verse!

    Anyway, so some of the other comments that came in here quite interesting. I’m not going to give the poets’ names since I haven’t asked their permission for this (I’m writing this quite quickly), but a female poet in New York wrote: “I don’t think it’s bad at all. It’s better than 90 percent of the poems in the first batch of my intro to creative writing class. I just read three different poems about a football game. Three different young men.”

    Another poet here in Los Angeles – he studied linguistics and works at Google – wrote “For someone who never went to high school, I think ‘Your nature perforated the abrasive organ pumps’ shows a pretty promising imagination.” I think what he means is that there is genuinely Surrealist element in the first stanza – “abrasive organ pumps” could have been written by Antonin Artaud – and has some real shock value. This same poet wrote (in response to some negative commentary on the FB feed):

    Not sure why folks are hating on this poem. It’s young, but the more I read it, the more I like it. For someone just starting out, it isn’t overly freighted with expectations of what a poem should do or be. If it’s ‘beat’, it’s more Bolinas or young Bernadette than hortatory elder beat. That first line is weird and inspired. And moonlight strafing the foothills, nicely observational.

    [“Bernadette” is Bernadette Mayer, a prominent New York poet associated with the Lower East Side.]

    Another poet wrote: “I like the title!” That’s pretty cool since I’m not sure if I can get behind the title (unless I read it as extremely pop/campy in that Jeff Koons way). He actually wrote earlier on his own FB feed that he liked the title (that’s where I learned about your poem).

    The defenses continued to role in, even for the unusual adverbs. One poet, a teacher at a prominent college and co-editor of a major publisher of poetry, wrote: “Hm. I actually like the weirdness and energy and if you’re going to have an adverb at all why not go with ‘kismetly.’ I say go for it Ms. Stewart.”

    This same poet later wrote – in response to a post that compared you to James Franco (Franco’s writing took a lot of digs on our feed, with no defenders): “No, honey, this is yards better than the few Franco pieces I’ve seen. But there’s lots of different types of poets and poems in the world.”

    You found your strongest defender in a poet, editor and teacher at a major university in the Midwest. She wrote:

    I actually think this poem is TERRIFIC. I guess there’s something wrong with me. It has a great punchy energy, it’s strange, and I never know where it’s going next. I would put stars all over this poem if it were turned in in my class… Also the language isn’t boring – kismetly and ubiquitously have a nice feel to them. I think this is pretty great.

    So you see, there are a lot of qualities to your poem that really come out when you think about them. I’ve come around to liking your strange adverbs, and love it when people invent words. (The great Russian poet Mayakovsky once wrote that the creation of a neologism is a revolutionary act.)

    My advice would be – if you really want to do something with poetry – is stay away from that terrible tendency in Hollywood (not just among actors writing, but mostly) to litter your poems with decadent sex and booze stories – Charles Bukowski is not the only one to have ever written a poem, and happily, much as I like him, your poem has none of his qualities. It seems that a lot of male actors in L.A. when they get down to publishing – and they usually publish way too much – seem to think they have to prove they know what a bad hangover or an abusive relationship is.

    I would also suggest that you read a lot of crazy shit – i.e. look at the Surrealists and even earlier French poets, some of the more “experimental” work in the U.S. (I could help you with that), read philosophy if you have the time, books about insects and ancient cultures and Japanese horror movies and roofed bridges and, well, anything – it can all go into a poem provided you really care about what you are reading. Conversely, don’t be afraid to be small – William Carlos Williams wrote a major poem about a cat that was only 27 words long.

    And lastly, don’t be hung up with trying to make your poems make too much sense. Yes, you don’t want to sound deranged (necessarily, though Arthur Rimbaud argued for just that – but he wasn’t being trailed by paparazzi) or like you have no control over the language. Actually, it’s good to have language have some control over you – I think that’s what we all liked about this poem, you were really going with it.

    With enough revision, you can make a poem that has a clear emotional intent without necessarily telling a story or having a clear “message.” An American example would be Hart Crane – many of his poems would (to a journalist) appear completely impenetrable and gibberish, but those of us that love him know exactly what he means. But you can find a lot of examples of this in the movies – David Lynch, obviously, was never kept up at night wondering if everyone understood what his movies were trying to “say.”

    I think you were really brave to publish this poem, especially in a magazine in which you can’t merely hide behind their literary credentials to help it pass. Keep going!

    Kismetly yours,
    Brian Kim Stefans (and a bunch of other poets)

  2. Grant: you obviously know zero about Kristen Stewart otherwise you’d know she is the last celeb on the planet to allow people around her to tell fill her head with bullsh!t lies. She
    will improve her poetry skills but based on your comments I get the feeling you’ll always be a judgmental bully…

  3. Brava to Kristen for being fearless. It’s intimidating that something quite personal to her will be dissected and analyzed by many. How many published poets were crippled by harsh criticism of their early works? And many who negatively judged her poetry did so because she is not a starving artist or had formal schooling (how dare she!) or starred in a bad film.

  4. Thanks, nice post. I also hope that it helps expose young people to poetry, and they are not negatively influenced by the derogatory headlines (which by the way, are hilarious in their abject simplicity -> “KStew wrote it, therefore it is terrible” and the like). She may not have been out to accomplish anything by allowing the magazine to publish the poem, but it has provoked some good discussion by folks like yourself.

  5. I think it is fabulous that Kristen Stewart has an interest like poetry, we don’t see much of interests beyond beauty and fashion in our Pop culture’s young females–or it is not emphasized much for sure.
    Nice post Grant!

  6. Is so amazing you guys have so much ego that it cums in my face,but anyway is really sweet you care to share a public apology. And btw,she’s the LAST person who wants to be labeled as a ”star” Kristen is a fucking actress and by that I mean she’s THE actress.

  7. Very cool of you to write this and rethink your initial reaction. So many professionals would let haughty pride get in the way of being human and understanding, so you acknowledging your mistake in judgement can also be seen as a courageous jump. Good for you (not being sarcastic at all, but “good for you” in print always comes across like that lol).

    I really like Kristen Stewart because of the fact that she’s always gone against the grain and stayed true to herself. It would be so easy for her to break under the Hollywood pressure and conform to the ideals and image of the typical Hollywood star, but she maintains her individuality and embraces her flaws and mistakes. That’s why I’m not surprised she writes, she seems like the type who highly values any creative form of self expression. I give her major props for sharing this and opening herself up to even more undeserved ridicule. She should also feel pleased with the fact that her little poem started this huge wide-scale poetry dialogue, because that in itself is a pretty great accomplishment.

  8. This girl, Kristen Stewart, has been mocked and criticized harshly for the past five years (and wrongly so I might add). It is my hope that your pompous, self-righteous bullshit didn’t affect her one bit. I suppose it was good of you to offer an apology. When I think about it though, it would be no different than you viciously kicking her in the shin and then apologizing for it…the bruise is still there. Nice try.

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