Article by Senia Hardwick
When I’m not writing for this blog, I’m working on poetry and fiction. As such, I occasionally go to open mics and readings. These are great opportunities to network with other writers and expose yourself to ways of thinking and writing you might not normally explore. Unfortunately, this is also an incredibly good way to run into the dreaded edgy white boy poet.
If you hang out in coffee shops or bookstores at all, you probably can imagine exactly the kind of person I am describing. If you haven’t encountered one, I will enlighten you (I highly recommend reading this next bit in Rod Serling’s voice).
Imagine if you will, a straight, white, able, cis man of middle to upper class, prone to flannel and stained t-shirts. He has a jaded demeanor and detachment from society– not from the clear and life altering realization that the world as we know it regularly dehumanizes people unlike him, but from a focused and monomaniacal belief that he has seen everything and as such must be the champion of chaos and upset against a grinding 9 to 5 world.
Honestly, when I go to open mics, I don’t expect everyone’s work to be refined. The point of an open mic is to have a chance to explore and test out your work and meet other writers. I’m not upset by the quality of the Edgy White Boy. Some of them even write well from a technical standpoint.
What angers me is the attempt to provoke a listener and evoke disgust in ways that are entirely unrevolutionary, problematic, and do nothing to further art. Evoking disgust and beauty at the same time is an important function of art, because ideally it makes the consumer and the producer question their values and what defines decency and good taste. When this is done by the Edgy White Boy, it lacks this function. Lamenting over a dead woman, poor descriptions of sex, and jaded attitudes towards a society constructed by other cis white men is the exact opposite of novel. It’s the same thing we’ve been reading for centuries– millennia. It is abject failure of art.
Every poem or piece of art should accomplish something. Even if it’s just describing or portraying a scene beautifully. That still evokes a sensation for the viewer and is a process for the artist. Attempting to challenge society by being an overwhelming product of it and an example of what people are valued over others does nothing.
For me as a queer writer, exploring disgust and provoking material is a way of reclaiming the space society has forced me into as aberrant. As an artist I am no longer a “revolting” person, as an artist I can become a manifestation of what society’s wrongs have forced. As creators we can strike against forces that may be too wide-spread or too systemic to truly destroy in their worldly forms. Every writer and every artist, has the potential to become a monster, a limitless creative entity that rains fire over society’s failings. For some people, art and their internal worlds are the only place they have power. Some people don’t even have that.
This is the true source of my rage against the Edgy White Boy. They are the most likely to have the power and autonomy to act in society and correct that which they find unfitting, but all they do is continue to propagate their own power and the false tragic narrative of their life as melancholic artists who know the ills of the world. They lack even the most basic ability to empathize with the struggles of others, and despite any education they have, remain ignorant.