Monday morning fell on a Wednesday this morning, primarily because my total thoughts, actions and life has been busy thinking about and preparing for My Better Half’s birthday yesterday.  It was a celebration for two, but involved cooking his favorite meal and was full of many gifts and greetings from family and friends.

Again I’ve been browsing through my old Graduate School poetry anthology, and tucked into the back was a folded piece of paper, an old essay test.  It consisted of one question, “What is Poetry?” As was my habit many times on compositions, I turned the theme into something I thought the professor would pause over and wrote the following:

What Poetry Is Not

Poetry is not “an expression of pure emotion,” a definition I learned in high school. It does deal with emotion…sometimes. It is not the beautiful statement of some high truth. Instead, it is that truth itself–with decorations.  It is not always fine sentiments in fine language, but sometimes lowdown sentiments expressed in gutter language.  Poetry is not something separate from ordinary life.  What “makes” it poetry  is not separate from the busyness of living.The matters with which poetry concerns itself are what matters to ordinary people. Poetry is not just a bundle of things poetic in themselves, a list of “My Favorite Things, Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…” Part of what makes a poem a poem is what holds these things together in a meaningful relationship as opposed to a collection of pleasing items. On the other hand, poetry is not just a group of mechanically combined elements…meter, rhyme, figurative language, etc.  The relationship among these elements is important.  They must work together to impart a specific impression, feeling, sense of things to the reader.

The poet makes the “familiar strange and the strange familiar.” Perhaps with John Ciardi, our textbook author, we should ask not, WHAT does a poem mean, but HOW does a poem mean? How does it go about being a human re-enactment of a human experience?  A poem  is an expression of a moment of pure realization of being that brings to the reader in a vivid way some scene or sensation…but it is more than that. Almost always a writer conveys information, but he conveys an attitude toward and a feeling about that information.  The poet becomes the translator  and the transmitter of experience to others. By choosing and shaping words, by selecting and presenting images, the poet forms the verbal object that captures and imparts his contact/confrontation with Nature/God/Reality.  The poem itself exists as a bridge between the reader and the Cosmos.


Author: Rae Longest

This year (2019) finds me with 50 plus years of teaching "under my belt." I have taught all levels from pre-K "(library lady" or "book lady"--volunteer) to juniors, seniors, and graduate students enrolled in my Advanced Writing class at the university where I have just completed 30 years. My first paying teaching job was junior high, and I spent 13 years with ages 12-13, the "difficult years." I had some of the "funnest" experiences with this age group. When I was no longer the "young, fun teacher," I taught in an elementary school setting before sixth graders went on to junior high, teaching language arts blocs, an assignment that was a "dream-fit" for me. After completing graduate school in my 40s, I went on to community college, then university teaching. Just as teaching is "in my blood," so is a passion for reading, writing, libraries, and everything bookish. This blog will be open to anyone who loves books, promotes literacy and wants to "come out and play."

5 thoughts on “MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS(on Wednesday)”

  1. Yes! It is a great question and one I regularly get asked in my Creative Writing classes – what makes a poem. ‘It doesn’t rhyme, so I don’t think this is a poem…’ is another regular comment I hear. Which is when I can then demonstrate, using the piece of work in front of me what it is that DOES make it a poem. And you’re right it’s as often about the HOW as much as the WHAT:)).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The How as well as the what is John Ciardi’s idea, not mine, but I agree with him completely. I have taken several poetry theory classes at the graduate level, but can not write poetry (a limerick, haiku, or chinquapin, here or there, but my only attempt at a birthday/nature poem was for my Mother many years ago. She said it sounded like a Helen Steiner Rice card. She meant it as praise, but to me it was an insult! Ha!

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      1. I do write the odd poem when it won’t leave me alone – it’s a difficult thing to do. But I do think it comes in two stages – a bit like writing a book. You have to slam it down onto the page and then go back and tweak, refine and redraft, a process that can take a very long time. Or no time at all, depending on how successful that first draft was:).

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  2. “When it won’t leave me alone” is the key, here. Although certain papers on certain topics (research into some issue or literary aspect or some thoughts/ideas I want to “share”) won’t leave me alone until I write them, I’ve never had the same impulse toward getting a poem out. I guess the only poems I’ve written were for assignments or for trying just to see if I could, and they’ve all been failures (to me anyway). My junior year in undergrad school, I won a haiku contest, but probably it was the least bad–the poor prof didn’t have much to work with! I’ve never actually taken a class to learn how to write poetry, but I don’t know if that can even be taught.


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