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Sunday, May 17, 2009

More on poetry

Kringle from A Poetic Journey Through Life left a comment on my post about free verse and traditional form and asked to hear my thoughts about what she said. Here's what she said:
I found your post interesting... though I am no expert, I have done a fair amount of studying on the role of poetry and journal writing (I call it personal writing), in the development of the self. In my research I have found there are many reasons persons write... and yet too some of the poetic musings you discuss are related to semantics and syntax. Yet too, for many, poetry is merely an exploration and expression of self that leads to a transcendent place. Common themes I have found are the personal exploration and creation of selfhood through the personal writing. So perhaps part of all of this relates to the writer, the skill, and the purpose by which it is written? I'd appreciate your thoughts..

I think the points she makes are really good. Having taught writing for more than 20 years before becoming a full-time freelancer and having continued over the years by developing new writers as an editor and teaching as an adjunct faculty member, I'm well aware of the role writing plays in self discovery and development. And as a poet, I know the power of exploring poetic expression. One way we create and discover new knowledge is through metaphor, and metaphor is at the very heart of poetic expression.

I know that many people use poetry to both "explore" and "express" self. And there is a very long history and strong tradition of poetry being used in multiple settings as a form of therapy. And whether someone uses poetry as a form of private journaling or in a more formal therapeutic way, there is nothing "mere" (in the sense of limiting or simple) about the act. And anything that helps us achieve some level of transcendence is certainly outside the critical arena I intended that earlier post enter.

But we need to make distinctions. Poetry written as part of a therapeutic program and the lines and metaphors that you and I and millions of other people all over the world scribble into our journals at the end of a day or while sitting with a cup of tea in a coffee shop is not the same as poetry printed or posted on line in literary journals and zines or as poetry in even more mainstream publications. Poems in journals and poems that come out of a course of treatment are private poems. They are not and should not be subject to the same rules and expectations that poems presented as art are subject to. That doesn't mean that poems written in journals and written as therapy can't also be artistic and good. Some are excellent examples of the poetic art. But poems written for publication and for an audience are by definition an art form and can be expected to do certain things. There is a tradition they belong to. There is an ancient history of poetry as art and a history of theory just as ancient. Somehow the poems that are presented as art must carve out their place within that tradition or fall by the wayside. Those were the poems and that was the poetry I was referring to last Monday.


  1. I have only been writing on a daily basis for just a year.

    I fiddle around and have a great time building stories and trying out new things.

    I write as a hobby, so there is no pressure to be perfect.

    I wouldn't call anything that I've written poetry or even art.

    Maybe someday, but for now most of it is in the pupa stage.

    Just waiting... to become something more.

    Peace - Rene

  2. That phrase ``the word mechanic'' is so evocative. May I apply to join the fraternity?

  3. Unfortunately, there are zillions of poems and only so many literary journals to publish them. So it gets harder to get even artfully crafted poems out there.

    One of the most defining books on poetry was Mary Oliver's " Rules of The Dance," and also her other, "A Poetry Handbook."

    But I do agree. There's nothing like taking in a poem that's been parsed and sculpted. It's probably why I have no use for poetry slams. And I must say, one of my dreams is to go to the Dodge Poetry Festival.