What is poetry … an interesting question that many find hard to define … mainly because of the split between prose and poetry … and often what falls into the prose bucket and what falla into the poetry bucket is very much a product of a definition imposed by the questioner based on personal taste.
A few weeks ago I watched a young student trying to explain to a Korean visitor with limited language what was meant by ‘poetry’ … she started by explaining rhyme by giving examples of words that rhymed … of course we all know that rhyme is not necessarily needed for poetry … but I guess for many rhyme and poetry have a strong association … and as children we all probably can remember a few nursery rhymes … so perhaps this was an understandable start to an explanation … poetry is something different to the ordinary use of language … something special … perhaps a good place to open any discussion
… of course the poet has a range of many ‘tools’ available for use in manipulating language besides rhyme
… the following are chapter headings on the nature of poetry … taken from the excellent book – Literature (Structure, Sound and Sense)1 by Laurence Perrine …
... detonation and connotation … imagery … figurative language – metaphor, personification, metonymy … symbol and allegory … paradox, overstatement, understatement, irony … allusion, meaning and idea … tone … musical devices … rhythm and meter … pattern … sound and meaning
… and within the structure of the text there are many poetic forms that can be followed to classify specific forms of poetry … the sonnet for example must have 14 lines to be a sonnet … (or must it - one of Shakespeare’s sonnets does not meet this requirement)
… giving an example immediately aids explanation … these six lines from Tennyson are used in the above book to explain the nature of poetry and as a contrast between the ordinary and the special …
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls
… but when none of the tools are used in the word formation, when there is no conformance to poetic structure can any work produced be considered poetry … a topic for discussion
… in what circumstances could such work qualify … or what attributes are needed beyond technique and structure … and are these attributes equally or of more importance? ... what makes the description of the eagle above so special?
Poetry for Dummies2 … defines poetry as the practice of creating artworks by using the material - words (language) … but can language be enhanced in other ways in combination and is this poetry … there are many examples of image and words as an ‘art-piece’ … public sculpture and monuments …
… perhaps not in the strict sense … are words and language the sole tools of poetry? … and mixing with other art-forms detracts? … another topic for discussion …
Yes? No? Don’t know? Depends? … and does it really matter … and if you don’t like one side of the coin perhaps the other will bring you joy!
… an image could be an excellent entry context to the words … on the other hand the image could destroy the personal image that would have been created in the mind of the reader by the words alone
… but to start at the very beginning …
in the beginning, of no beginning
the word beyond a word
of everything, in everything
a metaphor for poetry
infinite in beauty, majesty
perfect … without rhyme or reason
God and love combined
as gold without season
… and a bottom line … poetry - your special words … filtered from the mass of the common … so perhaps it is very much up to you what words you place in your bucket, your top draw ... or is it your EBook reader.
1Literature (Structure, Sound and Sense) by Laurence Perrine
Southern Methodist University – ISBN 0-15-551100-9
2Poetry for Dummies
The Poetry Center (San Francisco State University)
John Timpane with Maureen Watts