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One man's poetry is another man's nonsense.

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Poetry is a difficult thing to define, as it means different things to different people. What may excite or disturb one reader may leave another cold. I'm sure, even among professional poets and critics there are disagreements as to whether a certain piece of writing is truly "poetry". This is most likely due to the way in which we recognise a poem - it's a private and personal experience. A poem "works" only if the reader is affected at a deeply private level. In which case, I suppose, there are as many definitions of poetry as there are readers.

In times past, the poets were the story-tellers, historians, and philosophers and in many countries certain conventions and rules of composition became accepted as the "proper" modes of speech for poets. When it was only possible to keep a story, or a vision, for future generations by handing it down orally, literature had to be memorable, in the simplest sense of the word. Tricks of rhythm and alliteration which could be easily remembered thus became the norm with certain phrases being used as recurring elements - the latter perhaps to give the speaker time to remember or invent the next incident in the story. Oral poetry therefore of almost all countries was possibly quite similar in it's attitude towards language and some of you may think of "true" poetry as one that adheres to a certain metric beat..

With the development of the printing press and literacy in Europe, the whole function of poetry began to alter. Rhythmic speech became unnecessary for the keeping of historical records, or the telling of tales, or the development of philosophical theories and ideas and so poetry developed other attributes. It's value began to lie less in what is said than how it is said. Poetry's ability to stir up emotions became more important than it's ability to give information. And so, for a poem to be successful, it was obliged to make the reader respond to the words, not as information, but imagination.

You will agree, there is no adequate definition of imagination any more than there is an adequate definition of poetry. Your imagination could have you possessed by a completely new vision of the way life works, in much the same way a poem can. For example, scientists nowadays can tell us what light is but none of their explanations embodies our personal experience of light. This is where poetry wins over science. The poem CAN tell us what light is and at the same time give us a powerful sense of EXPERIENCING light!

There may be many courses covering the basics of verse, diction, rhyme and rhythm however, can a student of Poetry really be taught the way a student of Art can be taught to paint? Perhaps the best and only way to be a true student of poetry is to read, evaluate and repeat, tracing those poets that speak to you, deriving thus your very own personal poetry ancestry and within that web of ancestors, finding your poetic voice.

Poetry in all it's forms, be it haiku, sonnet, sestina or villanelle; elegy, epigram, limerick or ballad is a vehicle of transformation of the self. It alters one's view of the world, not merely in terms of intelligence but more importantly in terms of emotions. After all, isn't it emotion that realises the human in all of us?

Which poem or poet speaks to you?

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