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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What is Poetry?

To start, I believe I will be writing this as a series, exploring different aspects of this question as I move along from one topic to the next.  The end goal will be to find the answer I seek through the journey.

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

– Leonardo da Vinci

 

Art.

Perhaps in an effort to define poetry, one must first define art, for poetry is art in written form, and possibly in its purest form.

Simply put, art is the expression of oneself, creatively, through a chosen medium.  It is said that one’s art could be in anything.  We speak of the “science” of things, the idea that something can be reproduced, or recreated, or fixed.  But, in like manner, we have also heard of people elevating a science to an artform.  What does this mean?

I think it is best described in terms of music.  One can teach someone else how to play the violin, the technical aspects of it, how to hold the bow and optimum angle for holding the violin to your chin, the type of violin which might be best, or the strings on the bow.  The music played could also be technical, following a piece as simple as a nursery rhyme, or as magnificent as a Mozart concerto.

So where does the art come in?

The art of the music is not found in the music itself, but in the emotions it evokes.  We can hear Mozart over and over again, played the exact same way, and every person with a violin playing that piece could play it exactly the same way, and so the magic is not found within the technical aspect of playing the music.  Either we will feel because of the music, or we will not.  Either we will get swept up in the wonder of the piece, or we will hate it and never listen to it again.  Here, there is no middle ground.

But what happens when a piece is elevated beyond the technical?  What happens when we hear that same concerto, but with variations in the way it is played?  What happens when an instrument, not originally in the piece, brings the piece to life?  As you read this, you’re thinking of songs you’ve heard, you’re imagining them with different instruments and variations on the tune itself.  You might hear the music slowed, or quickened.  All these things can change the entire meaning of the song.

So what is art?  Is it truly as simple as the evocation of emotion?

Perhaps art is the search for that emotion.  Perhaps art is found within the seeker, as much as in the artist who creates it.  Perhaps art is hidden within the journey.

In order for art to matter, what elements must it have?  Can art be art simply because its creator calls it such?  Or is art in the eye of the beholder, which can and must include the one who formed it in the first place?  I believe the answer to this is that in order for art to be considered as such, it must first be created, and then it must be given its importance by those who seek its truth within themselves.

Truth.

What is truth, specifically within the realm of this topic?  By using this term, what I mean is the truth of ourselves, those elements hidden within us which can only be unlocked by searching out those difficult, metaphysical and philosophical questions the art brings to our minds.  The art may use truth, or it may use untruth.  It might use that which we can see, or touch, or taste; or it might use a story, a parable or tale woven to elicit a realization – your truth.  Perhaps this is why we have such a hard time defining these things which matter the most to life, but are given such a small importance…or perhaps a big importance, but without ever knowing or understanding.

Stay tuned for Part 2, The Poet.

 

 

Echoes of Darkness

The crystal’s light echoes in Byzantine
Clarity, in diamond hues it breathes fate
Into her Phoenician harbors, unseen,
Unkept, hidden near, beyond the ornate.
Her heart a ruby, its shadow is cast,
In darkened hues of crimson void of light.
With Sapphic eyes yet filled with joy, now glassed,
A starry ceiling is her final sight.
Her cries do not echo, the quiet lea
An offering of solitude – her stilled
Soul mirrored in Atlantis’ berth at sea,
Where solace and comfort share in Fate’s will.
She views the echoes from a distant hope,
In desperate crystalline fits of woe.

The Shore Cries – a Villanelle

The cliff-side falls into the sea,
As tears might fall through anguished loss,
And yet she stands, beyond the lea.

In hope her cries might finally
Be heard amidst the foamy toss,
The cliff-side fell into the sea.

And he, bereft of freedom’s plea,
Lay grieving ‘neath his sorrowed cross,
And yet she stands, beyond the lea.

Her heart leaps, sudden jubilee,
A ship, a lover’s joy – pangloss –
The cliff-side falls into the sea

Winds, they echo in swaying trees,
Their movements measured, a mere coss,
And yet she stands, beyond the lea.

Her hair, it blows about, she sees
The quay now crushed in tidal frost.
The cliff-side falls into the sea,
And yet she stands, beyond the lea.

 

Common Measure

Common measure, also called common metre or ballad metre, is a form that follows a simple metrical pattern and rhyme scheme.  However, the form, in its simplicity, lends itself to a gentle sway that is quite musical to the ear, and can be used to great effect in telling a story poetically.

To explain it simply, common measure is written in an alternating pattern of iambic tetrameter and trimeter, with a rhyme scheme of abab, although in ballad form, which is a variant, the trimeter lines are not required to rhyme, and may have a rhyme scheme of abcb.  If unsure about meter, please reference the following link:

https://shadowyembrace.com/2017/06/02/poetry-a-beginners-guide/

This poetic form is an exercise in understanding the musicality of poetry.  What I mean by this is that, when done properly, the iambic metrical pattern, combined with the alternating lengths of the lines, gives a feeling of being on a boat in a gentle breeze, where the waves lapping the hull beneath rock the boat.

When writing common measure (and, indeed, any form poetry), it is important to understand that it is as much for the ears as it is for the mind.  This means that poetry is meant to be recited aloud.  The flow of the lines, and the entire piece, are brought to life when one is allowed to really hear the words.  Those natural stresses carry a forcefulness with them, bringing a subtle but very real power to the piece.  As such, take the time to read your stanzas out loud to yourself, or to someone, much as one might when composing a piece of music, because it helps to play the music so the ear can hear.  Feel the ups and downs, adjust as necessary.  A trochee or a spondee are sometimes very necessary, but again, reading your lines out loud is paramount to achieving your aim.

With this said, I will leave you with a common measure poem of my own, Songs of the Eventide.

https://shadowyembrace.com/portfolio/songs-of-the-eventide/

Thanks for stopping by, and to steal a line from the late great Bob Ross, happy writing!

Robert

 

The Dark Archer

The writing of The Dark Archer, set in the same world as The Suffering, has officially begun!

This book follows Bene, the captain who gave everything for his princess, and his quest to figure out who he is in a world that no longer accepts him as the man he once was, for he is something else now.  Last seen in the epilogue of the The Suffering, Bene’s torment has only begun, and his enemies are of the same shadow as that which created him in the first place…

I can’t wait for you to read about the man whose eternal battle rages on within himself, between that of what he wishes to be, and that of his true nature.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Mirrored sunsets dance upon the waters
Within the darkening dreams of Midnight,
Where the sands lie emptied, save two lovers,
Whose common dream reflects the fading light.
But what is to be seen when nothing is?
Do we dare to look upon the unknown?
Where, for all time, there remains a lovers’ kiss.
Frozen memories, forever enthroned.
The pendulum still swings within the clock,
Suns rise and fall, the moon still greets the night.
The small hand still travels; tick-tock, tick-tock,
Still the sands falling through the hourglass write.
Quietly swaying, this, in time, will slow,
While the scene remains, beyond the window.

Valleys of Light

Shall I seek the end of the broken road?
Where journeys fall to somber, sullen cries
And hopes become her unknown lies…
As she is wont to reap what once was sown.
The River stills the quiet heart, her crow
Corrodes the future’s horror, sheer delights,
A shallow death, whose fears seek their demise,
Upon the rocks which tumble and erode.

The cosmos dances with me, a nightly waltz,
Her arms enfold me, and despairs shall cease,
Her darkened skies blend into mountains’ hold,
And suffocates the light, a struggle false,
Assaulting senses – pleasant, joyous peace,
To press against my chest, a fallen cold.

Sonnets

In a prior post, I went into relative detail explaining the difference between freeverse and form poetry, and then dove into meter.  If you would like to learn about this before becoming overwhelmed with a particular form, here is the link: https://shadowyembrace.com/2017/06/02/poetry-a-beginners-guide/

Here, I would like to begin digging into forms, starting with the sonnet.

The two most common subsets of this form are the Petrarchan and Shakespearean, however, there are others, including the Spenserian and the Envelope sonnets.  Variations on these forms have provided artistic freedom to many poets, and still do today.  But before I go into these forms, I’d like to explain how a sonnet is defined.

Simply stated, a sonnet is a fourteen line poem, written in iambic pentameter (some of the lesser known forms of sonnets take artistic license with this stipulation), with a set rhyme scheme.

A sonnet will have a volta, or turn, in the latter part of the poem.  This ‘turn’ is meant to be a shift in thought or idea, or perhaps a shift from the build up, to the point of the piece.  The volta may be jarring or subtle, depending on the poet’s wishes, but should exist within the sonnet.

For the purpose of this post, I will only be covering the two main forms of sonnets.  For further forms and styles, feel free to ask.

Shakespearean Sonnet.

The Shakespearean sonnet is actually quite simple in nature.  Broken down to its simplest form, this form is made up of three quatrains and a couplet.  It follows a rhyme scheme of abab, cdcd, efef, gg.  The volta will most usually occur in line 12 or 13, but can occur earlier, at line 8 or 9, as well.

As an example, here is a Shakespearean sonnet of mine entitled Finding Myself –

I never held the truth within my hands,
but skies have never lied to hearts that searched;
and so I sought tomorrow’s sorrowed lands
upon the fields of hope’s eternal births…
The heavens dance upon the glass of faith,
as hosts of cherubs yearn for chords in time
with days’ unending breath within my haste,
beyond the grasp of love’s enduring rime.
Among the sounds of tears that drip like rain
she shrouds her quiet cries in fading pasts.
I drown myself within her hidden pains,
and find relief in forlorn thoughts at last…
The stars have gazed upon my soul tonight
as chances fade to thought, beyond my sight.

Petrarchan Sonnet

This form is also fairly simple, with some variations.  This would probably be best described as two quatrains (or octave) and a sestet.  The rhyme scheme is abbaabba, cdcdcd (or cdecde – the sestet is free to use various rhyme patterns).  The volta will be found in line 8 or 9.

In the following example, a poem of mine entitled Eternal, the sestet has a rhyme scheme of cddccd.

Her sorrows faded in my arms’ embrace
As I swept her off into the midnight sky
Carried upon the winds of Luna’s eye,
Reflecting her smile through my lover’s face.
While the stars within her eyes dance with grace
And adorn her gown with diamond-tears’ dye,
Whose cries malign hope of final goodbye,
Lain immortal on the heavens – encased
And traced by the stars’ eternal language,
Spoken unto the whisper’s breath whose fear
Fell into the oceans a lonely tear,
Holding only our love’s untold message
Embracing faith and bringing a courage
To those who would dare to hold our words dear

Why Do I Write?

This is a common question asked to writers, particularly those who are in creative writing in one form or another.  One rarely hears about the poet who is writing poetry exclusively (although many of us wouldn’t mind such a vocation), and the vast majority of novelists, or short story writers, are and remain gainfully employed in an effort to support their passions.

Those few of us who have been lucky enough to write exclusively in one way or another (I spent many years in technical writing, through creating programs, quality systems, and technical manuals – which were often written for maintenance or training) are a rarity, to put it lightly.  As I embark on a journey in the new and exciting world of publishing, I am cautious, if not entirely scared.

However, it must be said that gain never comes from idle hands.  And so, with a couple of stories completed, I have found it to be time for the next stage in my personal evolution.

I have a background in various fields, having been trained in the military in various endeavors, from engineering to multiple physics disciplines, but even through all of that, I kept writing, I kept learning and honing my craft – indeed, everything I have done in life has been toward this goal – and now here I am, standing on a precipice, ready to jump, with only hope that I will fly before I hit the bottom.

But I’ve not quite answered the question, have I?  The answer, for me, is really not all that difficult.

Why?

Because I need to.  Because whether in poetic form or story form, what was inside of me needed to be released.

I tell stories, not because I want fame, glory, and riches (although I probably won’t complain about any of those), but because the stories exist within me, and require my assistance in being released from their prisons hidden deep inside the confines of my mind.

I write because I love creating images with my words.  In the much the same way a photograph is worth a thousand words, I can create images within the minds of my readers, often with much less than a thousand words, and I can weave those together with other images, such that I can create an entire world we can visit anytime we open the pages of the story.  I can create characters my readers will believe in, feel sorrow for, or might get angry with as they drag the reader along their personal journeys.

Where else might one be able to do such a thing?

At the end of it all, I suppose I write because it’s what I am.  I’m a creator, a dreamer, a weaver of tales, or a bard, perhaps, of our current society, reflecting what my eyes see of the world around me in the words I produce, translating them into a work of fiction that is meant to highlight those aspects of life I so choose.