The Poet – What is Poetry? Part II

“Poets are damned… but see with the eyes of angels.”
― Allen Ginsberg

In the last post, I began the attempt to answer the question, “What is poetry?”  In order to answer that question, however, I first had to define art, for art is all encompassing, with the idea of oral tradition being possibly the oldest artform on the planet.  This, in its very essence, was the beginning of the storyteller, the first trappings of the poet…

We cannot, and must not, look past the importance of the poet when trying to explain what poetry is.

The poet’s chosen medium is pen to paper.  In today’s world, this might be more figurative, but the fact remains.  Instead of choosing to draw or paint a picture which tells its own story, the poet chooses to convey a message, to evoke emotion, or paint their own picture through his or her words.  This is a wonder of the written word.

The creation of thoughts and ideas, the ability to weave a spell with the flick of the proverbial tongue, or pen as it were, is powerful, even within this modern world which is often found to be devoid of appreciation for the poet.  As people, we still require communication, community, and connection, for without these three things, life seems to lose all meaning.  Poetry, through the voice of the poet, offers a means of both hearing, and being heard simultaneously, as we seek the poem which speaks the loudest to our joys, or our aching souls, or for any emotion we seek to elevate in the moment.

Is it the words with which we connect the most?  Or is it through the poet’s exposed heart that we find ourselves with caught breath, anxious for the next word, the next line, the continuance of their message?  The poet dances with the pen and paper, inking between the lines in an effort to release themselves from the burden of the words weighing heavy in their minds.

The manifestation of the poet’s soul, that is what poetry is, in its most raw state.  When we read a poem, we bear witness to this manifestation, we see the poet’s mind, we hear their soul, we feel their past.  As such, the poet becomes the poem, and vice versa.  It is impossible to separate the two.  The poet’s dance with words is meant to elicit a visceral and emotional response from his or her reader.  Sometimes, there is a connection, and sometimes there is not.  The poet’s words, even if fallen upon deaf ears, are not lost, however, for the poem was not meant for the deaf, but for those who could hear.

I have often said that in order for the poem to be fully understood, the poet also needed to be understood.  Often, in critical analyses, the life of the poet, particularly in moments of their highest poetic achievements, is looked at more closely when seeking to understand those achievements.  What was going on in the poet’s life?  What was happening in the world around them?  Was there joy?  Or loss?  These things all matter, and yet, those poems which resonate loudest often do not resonate because of the poet’s life…rather because of the poet’s chosen words.

Depth, then, is not always required.  Often times, only the reader and the poem are required.

I will post Readers – What is Poetry? Part III soon.

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