Sunday, August 02, 2009

What Makes it Poetry (part 2)?

Continuing the thought....

Ron Silliman adds: "What I find most appalling about William Shatner’s presentation of Sarah Palin Verbatim is not the implicit satire of poetry that it is, but rather that it is so much better than the poetry, say, we find on Prairie Home Companion. The inchoate argle-bargle of Alaska’s former governor, simply as found language, is more open-ended – and at times more evocative – than the very best “Good Poems” Lake Woebegon has to offer."

Diane Lockward reports that at her recent Rotary Club talk, "Someone else asked me for a definition of poetry. A trick question! I used Stafford's definition: an artistic arrangement of words on the page. Music came in again. And some of the special techniques of poetry. Line breaks. Stanzas instead of paragraphs." (Stafford said "A poem is anything said in such a way or put on the page in such a way as to invite the hearer or reader a certain kind of attention. The kind of attention that is invited will appear—sort of—in what follows."

Ted Burke's opinion is that "Poetry is what ever gets you to the next page", that "part of what makes poetry interesting is not just the actual verse interesting (and less interesting) poets produce, but also their rationale as to why they concern themselves with making words do oddly rhythmic things."

A few minute with iGoogle reveal hundreds of other thoughts. A few of these I find easily rejectable (the worst offender being to first define "poet", then any art the "poet" produces is a poem - complete nonsense). Irrespective of whether one likes or dislikes a poem, there are a couple of things (and to my mind, only a couple) that require something to be considered a poem:

  • Awareness of language. I don't care what they are, but there need to signs of be conscious of word choice, or if narrative is not germane to the piece, signs of awareness of language in the linguistic choices made, whether for the page, the ear or the eye.
  • Awareness of form. Whether you follow or challenge, conform or avoid, you have to know the rules to break them. The way the poem appears in its fixed form has to reflect an awareness that position of every letter or word or sign is important.
  • Presence of metaphor (or simile). If you're reporting the news, that's prose. If you're extrapolating the news from a dropped nickel or looking through the footage of the explosion to see a mantis on the sill, that's poetry.

Most notable omission comparing my list to others? "Significance of content" is purely a multiplier in my mind. Writing about an important subject no more ensures poetry than does the importance of selecting a life partner make every date a proposal.

Obviously much more on this subject than I can produce in this small space. But thinking about this has got me questioning my own work, too. Maybe that's where I take this next...

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