Poetry is a rather controversial form of written art. People tend to either love or hate it. Many who hate it believe it to be stuffy, boring, pretentious, saccharine, or confusing. Too short or too long. Too wordy or not wordy enough. Many feel this literary genre should have been left in a bygone era. Granted, poetry has been around since ancient times to show emotion, convey beliefs, and relate events. However, it also has an important place in today’s world, perhaps moreso now than ever. Personally, I love both reading and writing poetry and will attempt a defense of this classic literary form in this post.
Poetry can be free flowing or adhere to certain rules. This allows structure and rhythm to be offered where needed or wanted, such as in William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”. However, free verse doesn’t require rhyming, a specific meter, or a certain number of syllables per line, which allows for more freedom and creativity. An example is Anamika’s “Vandal”.
Poetry can have an overt point or be mysterious as to object or meaning. It can be literal or symbolic. Abstract or obvious. Compare E.E. Cummings’ “So Comes Love” with John Donne’s “The Good-Morrow”.
It can be light and playful or dark and somber. Compare “Skipping Stones” by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater with Khalil Gibran’s “On Pain”.
It can make you question your choices or stances or attempt to convince you of something. Compare Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” with Charles Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart”.
Poetry allows a message to be conveyed beautifully and creatively, similar to music. It is rhythmic and soothing and flowing. While it has the ability to teach a lesson or stir the conscience, it does so gently and graciously. Poems, such as Beowulf, can tell a story or can make a political statement. Take, for example, Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” or “On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial” by Linda Pastan.
Although poetry, as mentioned, is usually shorter than prose, it can also be as long as many prose stories. The Iliad and the Odyssey are two famous examples of long, epic/narrative poetry.
Poetry allows for a large impact in a condensed form, unlike prose. Prose can take a long time to make a point or to have an impact. Poetry packs a big punch in a small package (and there’s my mixed metaphor for the day). Lang Leav’s “A Way Out” beautifully demonstrates this.
Poetry is therapeutic. It asks self-reflection of both the reader and the writer. It touches the soul in a way other art forms cannot. It allows the emotional release and overwroughtness that people often feel uncomfortable even reading, let alone writing about or showing. Examples are Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” and Charles Bukowski’s “Raw With Love”.
Poetry requires great care to be taken with word usage. A poet’s choice of words can change the flow, meaning, or style of a poem. In poetry, how something is said is every bit as important as what is said and who is saying it.
Poetry can also be read aloud in what is termed “slam poetry” or “spoken word poetry”, where the poet recites their poem in front of an audience. Tone of voice and inflection bring the poem to life and make it seem more accessible and relatable. Two of my favorite spoken word poems are Edwin Bodney’s “When a Boy Tells You He Loves You” and Lily Myers’ “Shrinking Women”, both of which can be found on Button Poetry’s YouTube channel.
To close, for anyone still on the fence as to the worthwhileness of poetry, allow me to offer some recommendations for your perusal. Some of my favorite poets are Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, John Keats, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, E.E. Cummings, and Edgar Allan Poe. If you’re still unsure, try attending a slam poetry contest or writing some of your own.
I happen to be a self-published poet. For anybody interested, you can find my book of poetry, available in paperback and on Kindle, here: https://www.amazon.com/Loves-Contradictions-Poetry-Shirley-Anne/dp/1517780349