Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. T S Eliot
Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and thought has found its words. Robert Frost
Poetry is language at is most distilled and most powerful. Rita Dove
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. Carl Sandburg
You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you. Joseph Joubert
A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him. Dylan Thomas
Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the grand canyon and waiting for the echo. Don Marquis
In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all. Wallace Stevens
What is uttered from the heart alone, will win hearts to your own. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A thousand dreams within me softly burn. Arthur Rimbaud
There is a running debate in literary forums about the nature of poetry, what it is and how it can be distinguished, which leaves aspiring poets and readers in a state of confusion.
Our ancestors, right up to the 1950s, seemed to know what it was by instinct. Sound poetry always had, and always will have, a universal resonance. Verse, doggerel, limerick all had a place, usually humorous, that was lauded for its outlandish nonsense and astute comment. The chronicles of history sparkle with the light-hearted asides of versifiers. (Imagine that now! Maybe we are better bred, or, more likely, it's just that we have lost a sense of sportmanship.) They were in rhyme because that made them memorable and somehow funnier and more piquant.
Rhyme has long gone out of fashion and is much maligned. This seems to coincide with the 'freedom' our Western civilisation believes it has gained after doing battle with tyranny in two World Wars. Added to that, the splitting of the atom, with its proliferation of consequences, has undermined integrity. These milestones in cosmic history have challenged scientific and moral will. There was once a prevailing view of what constitutes Good and Evil, whose vital shades of grey must, nevertheless, at some point resolve into monochrome and line-drawing. The Golden Rule was key.
So, the old framework is demolished. Some maintain that God is dead. This leaves no reference point, no order in which we can belong, and much less, thrive. It actually leaves nothing to rebel against except the supposed causes of our amorphous pain and offers no hope beyond a fateful redistribution of suffering.
In the wake of all this, our artforms could only become fragmented if they were to be expressive of reality, our vision self-absorbed. It's harder now to communicate in clear and eloquent terms despite our reach via the media.
Art, like life, requires a vehicle. Perhaps 'vessel' is more apt. It thrives upon a paring down of options. Ultimately, economic recession, focused horizons, can only be good for it. We are made in the Creator's image. We are compelled to create. There is nothing like repression for producing work that exalts us.
The principle is vividly illustrated by Brian Keenan, the Beirut hostage of the eighties, who suffered unimaginable torture at the hands of his captors, yet is able to say this:
"Captivity had recreated freedom for us. Not a freedom outside us to be hungered after, but another kind of freedom which we found to our surprise and relish within ourselves."
It is an extreme example. But art, in order to prove its value, needs the needle's eye.
All this has a bearing on how we regard poetry. The call to rhyme and rhythm tends to flag up bad poetry, not only because of the sophistication, or otherwise, of the rhyme scheme, but because of the discipline it demands in the use of crisp, telling, multi-layered imagery within a prescribed number of balanced syllables.
Fear not, this is by no means a plea to abandon free verse, nor to discredit it. We are of our times and must ply with the momentum. It is a plea on behalf of those who are finding their way through thickets of the empirical, self-conscious, imitative and idiosyncratic. Good communication is good manners. And yes, that can take place on many levels, not just the immediate, nor even the conscious. (The Eliot quote above is profoundly telling.) But something within the piece hooks, halts and captivates the reader, who is present in spirit during the writing.
We may take on board academic opinion, be dazzled and informed by it, but then forget it. Forget the vogue. Be still and hold counsel with yourself, listen to the rhythms of your soul, tap into the deep well of emotion and experience that is the unique You, be driven by the language, shuffle the images so that they fall into a new pattern in the mind's kaleidoscope. Latch on to a metre that matches your subject, as Robert Browning did, for one, in How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.
Poetry is timeless and its form should best support its theme. In the haystack of opinion about what makes for real poetry, first find your needle!
© ©Rosy Cole 2010 & 2015