Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What is Poetry?

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 …

The Eagle

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 …

Pure Poetry

I am
in the beginning, of no beginning
the word

the word beyond a word
of everything, in everything
pure, untainted

Life, colour-painted
a metaphor for poetry
infinite in beauty,  majesty

perfect … without rhyme or reason
God and love combined
as gold without season

Richard Scutter

… 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.

Footnote …

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

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