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.