Wait…should we all start writing bad poetry?

The Circle's poetry slam says yes

In our inaugural Scene & Heard, a weekly newsletter where a guest writer reflects on just one scene from a recent Netflix release, Rebecca Shaw evangelises the joys of bad poetry in Season 2 of The Circle — whose finale premieres tomorrow night.
Scene & Heard is part of Netflix Pause, a publication that’s all about hitting pause to reflect on the latest film and TV. Subscribe now to get three free newsletters in your inbox every week diving into screen culture.
Without further ado, the scene in question…

I was watching The Circle, Season 2 on Netflix
Because I just love TV, it’s how I get my kicks 
When all of a sudden, bad poetry appeared 
“It’s going to be cringe” — that’s what I feared 
But to my surprise, a weird feeling was had, 
Wait….should we all write poetry that is bad?

That was my bad poetry tribute to the second episode of The Circle’s second season. I am sorry you had to read it, but as you will discover, I was right to do it. The episode featured a game called “Poetry Slam”, where contestants were asked to write a poem about one of the other players who could potentially save them from being eliminated. 

Little did I know that this scene would convince me of something I never thought possible: we should all be writing bad poetry.

Fundamentally, The Circle is about people stuck in their own silly little homes, forbidden from seeing anyone, communicating with people strictly over the Internet. Sound familiar?

In the most lesbian move imaginable, I fell in love during lockdown with a woman who lives in…New Zealand. I don’t know if you’ve heard of “New Zealand”, but it is a country that is entirely different to this country that we are in, separated by things such as the ocean and borders. So tuning into The Circle, I knew that I would be comforted by people forced to build relationships over the Internet, just as I had. But what I didn’t expect was the poetry slam. 

It was a shock, as not only had I built a relationship with someone over the Internet, but I had built that relationship with a POET. Is The Circle taking scenes from my life? Am I on The Circle? Is the entire world The Circle? Is Michelle Buteau hiding under my bed? 

I have always enjoyed poetry, and of course I know Julia Stiles’ ‘big dumb combat boots’ poem from 10 Things I Hate About You off by heart, but the pandemic brought poems into new light. Starting a relationship online was strange, but also limiting. Obviously we couldn’t touch, smell, or taste each other (sorry but it’s true). But there are a million other small ways people get to know each other that we were denied. We had to find other methods to try and get a fuller experience.

Poetry isn’t just a way for Julia Stiles to express her disappointment to Heath Ledger: it’s also an incredible way to get to know someone.

One of these was by reading her book, published a few months before we met. Not only was it extremely good poetry, but it immediately gave me more insight into who she was, and who she had been. Reading the book while I was falling in love with her — and having something new revealed with every page turn — gave me access to an entirely new dimension of knowing her.

So, in any other circumstance, I would’ve been dreading a poetry slam by a bunch of randos. But instead, I watched The Circle’s with interest, as I had been slowly realising over the course of this poet relationship that poetry isn’t just a way for Julia Stiles to express her disappointment to Heath Ledger: it’s also an incredible way to get to know someone. More so than other forms of writing, poetry is inherently vulnerable. There is nothing but you and your concise feelings. No filter, no front. 

In a show where people are trying to form bonds with just words, or trying to catfish as someone they aren’t, I was very curious to see what would happen. And well, what happens is gloriously bad poetry — but still poetry that completely lines up with their personalities. Below, I will rate each of their poems based on whether I would fall in love with them via the Internet.


Chloe

Our next poet is Chloe, a boisterous (read: loud) ‘girl from Essex’, who performs a poem/rap consisting mainly of compliments to her subject. At first glance, it lines up with Chloe’s whole deal, where she’s called out for being overly complimentary. But put under pressure to write a poem, Chloe’s thoughts and instincts remain exactly consistent, and feel genuine.

Would I fall in love with Chloe via the Internet after reading this poem?

Chloe references astrology in the first stanza, and as we all know that is queer culture, so my little gay ears would perk up immediately. And using a ‘z’ on the end of layerz and playerz? Innovative queen! Rhyming ‘brains’ with ‘Jane’?  Made me laugh. This poem makes me feel as though Chloe is fun and outgoing, and also thoughtful. I can’t fully explain it but it’s also a hot girl poem. My interest would be piqued, and I would want to at least spend some more time getting to know the person who wrote this. I would have a fun CRUSH on Chloe after this poem.


Courtney

Courtney, a funny and flamboyant (read: gay) gossip podcaster tries to connect by listing things him and his subject have in common. “We are from L.A. and love Usher and family so please save me,” he begins. But he also appeals to the future, by dangling gifts of friendship and cake. The poem comes off as a bit shallow, someone just saying what he thinks people want to hear — AKA exactly how Courtney plays the game. 

Would I fall in love with Courtney via the Internet after reading this poem?

Well, I am a fat woman who loves cake, so he really grabbed me with that sentence. Finally meeting my girlfriend at the airport after nine months of online dating was extremely daunting; I can only imagine it would have been made easier if she had arrived carrying a freshly baked feijoa cake. But this poem unfortunately did not endear Courtney to my heart, or my loins. In fact the phrase ‘my dear’ made my loins shrivel up and die a horrible death. I do love 2000s R&B, but I want more from my online boyfriend than a list of likes and dislikes. To fall in love with someone I need to feel as though I am really getting to know them, and this poem does not do it for me. I would NOT fall in love with Courtney after this poem.  


River AKA Lee

The poem I was most interested to see was that of catfish Lee, an older man playing as a 24-year-old named River. He puts thought into every word he says to the other players to convince them of his ~ youth ~, and is mostly successful at doing so. But when asked to write a poem...he immediately sounds his age. Let’s talk about the title itself: “A Servant’s Pain and A Servant’s Compassion”. Despite his efforts to act like someone else, poetry is what forces his inner workings to show through.

Would I fall in love with River via the Internet after reading this poem?

This poem is definitely the most ‘poem-y’ (technical term) of the bunch. Lee is playing River as a broken-hearted young gay man, and as someone who loves sad gay music and art and is listening to Pheobe Bridgers as I write this, that appeals greatly to me. It doesn’t really matter who supposedly wrote this, I can still feel the real emotion and raw communication from the person who did. I absolutely LOVE emotions. I LOVE communication. I love talking about FEELINGS. I am GAY. I would feel deep AFFECTION towards the person who wrote this. 


I went into this episode feeling warmly towards poetry, and the people that write it. While my girlfriend writes very good poetry, the bad poetry written by these inexperienced contestants still resonated with me. They all dove in the deep end, trying their hardest to connect with other people using all of the tools available to them. They weren’t cynical about it, they weren’t embarrassed, they just gave into it and went with it. Those are all things I had to let myself do when I started falling in love during a pandemic with a poet who lives overseas. With limited ways to connect, you have to take full advantage of the ways you do have. Including poetry.

The Circle’s poetry slam made me realise this. The state of the world means that forming connections is more important than ever. It’s not the time for cynicism, or having walls up. It’s the time for being open, and vulnerable. It’s confronting and scary, but it’s time for everyone to write bad poetry!! Put down your thoughts, your feelings, and see what you come up with. Send it to someone you love, or want to love, and allow them to see you for who you are. Take it from me, and the contestants on The Circle. Bad poetry is a beautiful way to connect.


Rebecca Shaw is a comedy writer. She has been on the writing teams at Tonightly with Tom Ballard, Get Krack!n, The Weekly, and Hard Quiz. She was deputy editor at SBS Comedy, and contributing editor at Kill Your Darlings.  She has written for The Guardian, Pedestrian, Junkee, and most other places you can think of.
Netflix Pause is produced by the Netflix ANZ editorial team who you can also follow on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. If you haven’t already, subscribe to us to get three free newsletters in your inbox each week filled with deep dives into screen culture. And leave us a comment too, if you’d like!