Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Miscellaneous Thoughts On Writing Poetry

"I hate writing, but love having written." ~Dorothy Parker

Tonight is Day 3 of Duluth Dylan Fest, which includes a poetry event at the Red Mug Coffeehouse in Superior. It will be an interesting mix of poets older and younger voices. Karen Sunderman of The Playlist is serving as guest host with Richie Townsend playing an accompaniment to the readings. The event begins at 6:30 with a reception followed by readings by ten local poets.

What is a poem? A Google search offers up this answer:
a piece of writing that partakes of the nature of both speech and song that is nearly always rhythmical, usually metaphorical, and often exhibits such formal elements as meter, rhyme, and stanzaic structure.

What I get from this is (a) that it is a category of writing that is (b) "nearly always" (note the qualifier) rhythmical, (c) usually (another qualifier) metaphorical, and (d) often (a third qualifier) exhibits formal elements.

In a world of change and chaos, the definition itself exhibits the uncertainty of a world in which no one is certain of their definitions anymore. Literature experienced the same assault over the past century as art and philosophy.

I think it noteworthy that most of the definition defines the style of presentation, and the only piece of the definition that actually touches on the content or purpose of the poem is that it is "usually metaphorical." And perhaps in the mind of the general public these elements are what make a piece of writing a poem: it rhymes, has a meter and is delivered in stanzas.

Poetry.org/whatis.htm takes a more extended dive into what makes a piece of writing a poem, although Garrison Keillor has the ability to make reading the phone book sound like a poem.

Poetry (ancient Greek: ποιεω (poieo) = I create) is an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content. It consists largely of oral or literary works in which language is used in a manner that is felt by its user and audience to differ from ordinary prose.

It may use condensed or compressed form to convey emotion or ideas to the reader's or listener's mind or ear; it may also use devices such as assonance and repetition to achieve musical or incantatory effects. Poems frequently rely for their effect on imagery, word association, and the musical qualities of the language used. The interactive layering of all these effects to generate meaning is what marks poetry.

Because of its nature of emphasizing linguistic form rather than using language purely for its content, poetry is notoriously difficult to translate from one language into another: a possible exception to this might be the Hebrew Psalms, where the beauty is found more in the balance of ideas than in specific vocabulary. In most poetry, it is the connotations and the "baggage" that words carry (the weight of words) that are most important. These shades and nuances of meaning can be difficult to interpret and can cause different readers to "hear" a particular piece of poetry differently. While there are reasonable interpretations, there can never be a definitive interpretation.

One of the developments in our current poetry scene seems to be that there are a growing number of events in which poetry is being performed. Poetry Slams have popularized a certain kind of oral presentation in which it almost seems that the poet is judged more by the performance than the poem itself.

For some reason a lot of people don't really get into poetry, much the same as the many who do not relate well to modern art. I'm not sure if this was caused by the way it's taught in the schools or whether it's just uncomfortable for people when they fear they don't "get it." I dunno. What I do know is that I for one truly enjoy a witty twist of words, or the cleverness concealed and then revealed in a tightly written bit of prose.... or simply the imaginative and innovative ways ideas can get packaged.

Tonight I'm expecting a really special event. There are a number of readers I have always enjoyed hearing and/or reading. It's a line-up of local poets that includes the 2014-16 Duluth Poet Laureate Jim Johnson, past Duluth Poet Laureate Sheila Packa, Ellie Schoenfeld, Bob Monahan, Kathleen Roberts, Amy Waugh, Phil Fitzpatrick, Liz Minette, Don Dass, Jeffrey Woolverton and myself, probably the least worthy of this batch and quite honored to have been invited.

Here's an excerpt from The Playlist featuring local poet Kathleen Roberts.


Meantime, life goes on all around you. Explore it.

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