And as National Poetry Month heads to a close in the upcoming week, a question still remains…What Is Poetry?
Academics and practicing poets for generations teach about form, syntax, alliteration, consonance, meter, rhyme, and stanza (to name a few). But terminology often renders objects from the viewpoint of being clinical and isolated. But poetry is anything BUT.
Poets and artists of all persuasions have tried to define poetry, often to much difficulty. Like scientists trying to define biological life or religion trying to define spirituality, the definition of poetry is in the eyes (and soul) of the beholder.
Carl Sandburg: “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.”
Pablo Neruda: “Poetry is an act of peace.”
Leonard Cohen: “Poetry is just the evidence of life.”
Vincent Van Gogh: “One can speak poetry just by arranging colors well, just as one can say comforting things in music.”
The truth may be that poetry, in all its power, transcends words on paper. As someone who experiences synesthesia (see my post entitled “Number Six Burns Like An Orange Flame”), colors and numbers and letters and musical notes seem to cross paths with one another. No poem therefore can be simply made of words on paper, nor a painting simply pigment on canvas, nor even a symphony the auditory input received by the inner ear.
BBC’s Doctor Who program (a favorite show of mine), wrote an episode on Vincent Van Gogh, where it expresses how this artist saw the world in a much more complex way than most. A deeply and emotionally poetic way, I dare say. Here is the section that speaks to me most:
Perhaps poetry more than anything else is a state of emotion, whether it is obtained through reading the written word, hearing a concerto by Bach, engrossed in the music of a favorite singer-songwriter, or mesmerized by paintings that seem to transport the viewer to another dimension.
Yet can we further apply the word POETRY to describe historic architecture? A gorgeous sunset? A mathematical equation? An act of kindness? Some have described these things precisely in terms of poetry.
Where do we draw the line between poetry and beauty? Especially when both terms are in themselves difficult to define. Do we need to draw a line? Perhaps we can be more like Emily Dickinson and define poetry by saying, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”
I vote in favor of broadening the definition of poetry. Let poetry, however you define it, feed your soul. Celebrate ALL the poetry in your life!