What is Poetry? It Just Went Over My Head.

Written By: jOakes

What is Poetry?

Should poetry rhyme? It can rhyme, but the notion that poetry must rhyme is a misconception (that most of us have left behind,). Real poetry is not the sort of purple verse commonly found inside a Hallmark card. That kind of writing is to real poetry what a valentine heart is to the one that beats inside us. Poetry should employ language as a means to imagistic precision. In a well-written poem, there is only one word that will fit. Rhyming is a different kind of precision, and to adhere to a rhyme scheme severely limits a poet’s access to a full vocabulary of possibilities.
In poetry, every word counts. This is true – in some ways literally, because poetic meter, which is the rhythm as dictated by the number of syllables in each line and how they’re accented, often boils down to the number of words in each line. Even “free form” poetry adheres to a scheme in the same way that jazz music can improvise, but only within musically acceptable structures. Whereas a novel, for instance, has some “play” when it comes to word choices – entire paragraphs can be removed, or their words exchanged for synonyms – a poem is a relatively brief piece of writing. It has to use its time wisely.
An image or idea in a poem must be an original and seamless blend of the surprising and the inevitable. An image in a poem must present a new way of seeing, understanding, recognizing or perceiving something, as though it’s always been waiting — or meant — to be thought of. It’s been said that poetry is getting something right in language. In fact, it’s all that and more, because getting something right in language is what all writing sets out to do. Poetry is getting something right in language, but in a form that, at its best, is a kind of a vivid, succinct and metered minimalism. Rather than tell a story, which has the luxury of characters, dialogue and a progressing timeline, (even elliptical stories with shuffled timelines are linear in spurts, if not continuously) poetry is perched in an ever-extended present, able somehow to both step back and zoom in on anything perceivable by the mind’s eye. Poetry exists outside the bubble of the world it observes. In fact, it’s simultaneously as fragile as a bubble and as pure, essential and motionful as water.
Is poetry therapy? Writing poetry, like the creation of all forms of art, can be therapeutic, but therapy has nothing to do with art. If a feeling of melancholy can be the catalyst for a great idea – as many songwriters would attest – that’s fine, but the emotion cannot dictate content, only inspire and guide it. Poetry is craft. Your emotions might be true, but in poetry the truth is no defense. Poetry invents a new form of truth. Emotional confessions and art do not naturally intersect. The poet must bring them together.
Poetry must communicate directly. Many people are intimidated by poetry. They feel it’s too complicated or – perish the thought – too fancy. In poetry, the enemy is ambiguity. Poetry is what it means, and means what it is. Poetry is not a decoration. It’s like a room with perfect furniture. Poetry is absolutely not a matter of saying something in a fancy way. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite. It pares truth down to the bare essentials, and then builds a new truth – equally realistic but fresh — on top of what we already know. While it’s acceptable in poetry to use off-the-mainstream terminology, or make allusions to places, people or events with which not all readers are familiar, a poet is speaking directly. A good poem should speak to as many people as possible, as simply as possible, as uniquely as possible. A poem’s audience should comprise everybody that can read. It should find a new common language.

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