I have a burning question: What is poetry?
I see the stars are again in alignment. We have Matthew Biberman, Evie Shockley, Cheryl Snell, Marilyn Kallet, Jessica Barksdale Inclan, Susan Browne, and many others whose passion, interest and careers lie in poetry. I am not a poet but read and study it with fervor.
Matthew Biberman said in an email he was open to a Redroom discussion of free verse vs. "traditional" meter and form.
What is poetry? Free verse is a reaction again the structure of tradition, but you have to have a structure to rebel, rub, fight against in order to spark the frisson.
I have two copies of Paul Fussell's "Poetic Meter and Poetic Form." The first edition lacks a chapter on free verse; the revised edition contains a very short chapter on the subject. When I read this chapter, it's as if Fussell is barely able to disguise his disinterest in the prevalent fashion. (If you wish to learn more about meter and form, Fussell's book is howlingly excellent.)
Lotus in Rain by Belle, gouache
I am a painter and I can best use the language of art to compare and discuss poetry. I am NOT a fan of Abstract art (or Realism). The perfect place for me is Expressionism. In Expressionism, you have the powerful play of imagination and reality. For me, Expressionism equals poetry. The form is still apparent, even as the artist exaggerates and distorts her view of the concrete world, filtering it through her eyes and sensibilities. If she doesn't have structure and form to play off of--to distort, expand, twist, bend, there is no frisson.
What makes poetry? What separates free verse from mere typography?
Today, just about everyone dabbles in poetry as vehicle for self-expression. Parents and teachers cheer school children as small geniuses when they write a few lines of mediocrity.
It's not necessarily conservative poetry, in subject matter or form -- though you will find more than a couple sonnets in the collection! -- but it is poetry that cares deeply about the music that can be wrung out of this all-too-Germanic language we call English. My recommendation: any poem that seems to stop you in your tracks should be read aloud. In fact, all of them should be read aloud!
Our heartbeats, ocean waves, the cycle of the moon indicate rhythm and patterns. We look for patterns when we stare at the linoleum on the bathroom floor, the pattern of raindrops on the surface of a lotus pond. We swim in rhythm, meter, beat and patterns.
Lotus in Rain, oil, by Belle
Many older, traditional poet cared more for the joy of creating meter (and to surprise by stepping away momentarily from the expected meter) than the subject of the poem itself. I can understand this: I love to sketch a landscape, not for the buildings or the mountains but the fine patterns of hatches, dots, squiggles I can make on the paper. I love drawing pine needles on a forest floor for the beautiful patterns and rhythm of lines I can make.
Patterns, patterns, patterns. I want to be patterned.
I would like to fall in love with free verse, but so far it has not really drawn me in. I would love to learn more about free verse and so I am humblely open to your instructions and voices.
Poets and lovers of poetry, can we open up a discussion? What is poetry? Please snswer in your own posts or as comments below.
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