Old Moon

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Poetry and Poets

I will never get over the number of people who write poetry. They seem to be legion. The question of how many read it is unavoidable. Even if we all had access to the newest poems, could hear their authors reading their output, and were consciously dedicated to taking in as much as we could manage in a day, we couldn't come close to absorbing what's out there.

Why write poems instead of stories or essays?

In the 21st Century, how do we define poetry vs. prose?

Is there room in any publisher's list for material that doesn't fall clearly into a category -- i.e. "contemporary," "confessional," "lyrical," "nature," and so forth?

Sometimes I write poetry (I must use the term loosely) because something about the thought I need to express demands diction I wouldn't use for prose. Maybe if I understood what a "prose poem" is, I could use that designation without feeling I need to make the written lines look on the page like something that can't be prose. More than that, though, is the need to give expression to an idea that requires metaphor. If I'm honest, I have to admit that some notions are too vague in outline to lend themselves to ordinary sentences and lack of ambiguity. So many facets of everyone's life are inchoate, and it's those that need poetry to give them any form at all.

Having attempted to trick some of my high school English students into defining poetry (as opposed to prose) over 30 years ago, I have a notion of how poetry seems to define itself to me, but feel certain the criteria would satisfy neither an academic nor a young poet. So now I'm hoping to get educated. Oh, I should confess that I buy and read young poets, and some wonderful older ones like Marie Ponsot. Still, looking for clear-cut absolutes, I don't see much to help identify them.

I just hope that the answer to the first question doesn't turn out to be: because it's easier than to write prose!


Terra said...

I didn't want you to think I was being a rude lurker, following along for all these months without commenting.

Please know I enjoy reading your articles and stories.

Glenda Beall said...

I get the question all the time, What makes this a poem?
My best advice is, take a class with a good modern poet. My older sister and my brothers grew up with wonderful poetry like The Raven and Gunga Din which they memorized and recited just for fun.They loved the rhythm and the rhyme and although my brother Max is 80 years old, he can still recite every word of those poems.
I think free verse has opened the door to a hodge podge of poetry that has no form and often nothing that even sounds poetic. My own poems are not that great compared to the work of the poets I love to read. But I write poetry because it is a way to express my own thoughts, my deepest feelings and gives me a satisfaction that is hard to explain.
But I also like to write non-fiction and short fiction, because they are more fun and give me more freedom to use more words. A wonderful essayist, Steven Harvey, was first a poet, but found he needed more words to say what he really wanted to say.
At times I feel that way. Good poetry is very hard to write because each word must be the right word. And I like to use alliterarion and internal rhyme to give more poetic sounds, to use metaphore and simile to create images. And I buy poetry books and I read them. But I only read poetry by people whose work I enjoy, like Ted Koozer, Billy Collins, Janice Townley Moore, Kay Byer, and others whose names escape me right now.

Diana Jurss said...

I was told that poetry is an art form where the artist's media is words, much like a potter's media is clay, but since prose is also an art form that uses words, I guess we can say it's all in the glaze!