I'm late to the "What is Poetry" party. The question has been answered by the professionals, and I'm still struggling to catch up. I glean this: Poetry is pure communication, distilled emotion, architectural, the right words in the right order, a big tent, what you want it to be. And what is not poetry?
(And what is not Art?)
My confession: Poetry scares the shit out of me. It's crazy because I love words, and I love order and I love flow, but I still have a hard time with Poetry. Reading it makes me uncomfortable. Analyzing it horrifies me. Writing it terrifies me.
When I read a poem I know is supposed to be good and I don't get it, then I'm not grasping its perfection, essence, true meaning. And what does that say about me?
Poetry analysis makes me uncomfortable, much the way a lot of literary analysis does. The words fuzz out, and so does my brain. I feel stupid and dense, unrefined, undereducated, clumsy, and not serious enough. Poetry analysis feels like something I need to learn because it's good for me. And like something the Big Kids already know about, ha ha ha on me. (YES, I teach writing at a major university. Shut up.)
Writing poetry terrifies me because of the expectation of perfection. The perfect word. In the perfect order. I do write poetry -- sporadically, as catharsis, a fragment in the night. The act itself doesn't scare me as long as I tell myself I'm not actually writing poetry, I'm just pretending to. I'm just "adding to the tools in my writerly toolbox" or "making a few notes" or "doing a writing exercise."
Perfection. In prose I strive for clarity and beauty and preciseness but there is room to spread out. The longer the work, the more spreadable. In a book of 90,000 words, you can have some out of order and not destroy the integrity of the whole. In a 3,000 word short story, again, the pressure isn't as high. Flash fiction: more pressure. The shorter the piece of writing, the more I feel I need to be thin, elegant, beautiful, deeply moving, and brilliant.
I don't want to have to be perfect.
And yet.... POETRY. The essence of it all. How can I dismiss an entire medium?
I've noticed something odd about life. That which for years confuses and repels me often ends up entrancing and involving me. I judged opera much the same way until this last year when I started attending the live broadcast series of Opera at the Met. I swore I'd never be a teacher and a dozen years later, here I am....
Given my patterns, I'll probably end up a poet.
(Another confession: I have had a few poems published hither and yon. I always feel like somebody made a big mistake.)