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Wot is Poetry?

Poetry is the best words in the best places. It attempts to pierce facades and depict the essence of life.  However, poetry appears in decline.  The earliest poets like Hesiod, Solon and Homer were revered because they used the language of the gods. When a poet and a trader were both sentenced to death for similar crimes, the poet's life was spared to appease the gods while the trader was executed.  Today, the businessman would hire the best barrister and escape his crime while the poet would pay his penalty.  And we call this progress.

When Tennyson died, 11,000 people applied for 1000 places in Westminster Abbey, but today poets have a hard time making a living.  Many go into public relations.  Professor Marshall McLuhan observed, “Ours is the first age in which many thousands of the best trained individual minds have made it a full-time business to get inside the collective public mind.  To get inside in order to manipulate, exploit, control is the object now.”  Advertising shamefully, yet shamelessly exploits the poetic voice to market its bauble.

Yet Poetry is for heightened  experience – T.S.Eliot, “to purify the dialect of the tribe”.  J.F. Kennedy and Barack Obama  both used poets for their inauguration.  Four Weddings and a Funeral used W.H. Auden’s Funeral Blues  with  “Stop all the clocks” which went viral. Poetry is also the language of crisis, of profound thought, defiance and deep emotion.

Poetry is the language of defiance

          Still I Rise:  "You may trod me in the very dirt/But still like dust, I’ll rise. Maya Angelou

Poetry is the language of deep emotion.

          ”thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears”  Wordsworth

Verbal Music

Poetry is sensual; it appeals to our five senses, affecting our emotions, feelings and moods. Since Poetry appeals to our ears the most, the musical sound effects used by poets are very important. Words are chosen for their musicality, resonance and sound effects . To get the most benefit from poetry it should be read aloud (recited) or even sung.

Verbal music includes: rhyme, rhythm, assonance, melody, pitch, and slow, fast, light, heavy, alliteration, onomatopoeia, blending of words, repetition patterns, tone, voice, mood, and atmosphere.  Polyphonic music consisting of many voices or sounds, each with an independent melody, but all harmonizing; contrapuntal (opposed to homophonic), can have some subliminal effect upon the listener, an almost hypnotic or haunting counterpart. 

We can be caught or mesmerized by the spell woven by the lulling descriptions, the direct colloquial narrative, the lilting rhythms, regular ‘rimes’, rich tapestry of images, symbols  and the searing feelings of the narrator.  Incantatory repetitions and use of onomatopoeia can have a hypnotic, haunting effect on us.

Poets often   deliberately use incantation and repetition in an attempt to cast a spell over their readers, allowing them to escape reality and enter the world of dreams, imagination and fantasy. 

Many religions use these to cast a spell and suspend people’s reasoning processes. The Gregorian monophonic chant, the Buddhist mantras, the Dervish Whirling Dance attempt to achieve religious ecstasy through cognitive interference.

A mantra is an instrument of the mind, a powerful sound or vibration that you can use to enter a deep state of meditation.  The claim that these connect us to a deeper consciousness is countered by arguments that they disconnect us from reality.

Critics have for centuries debated the effect of repetitive sound patterns – predominantly, rhyme assonance and alliteration – upon our standard cognitive mechanisms.

No firm conclusions have been reached but by consensus it is accepted that they interfere with our ability to make sense of language. They create a layer of echoes that runs as a counter-current to the conventional relationship between phonetics and semantics, sound and meaning. A Definition of Poetry : the double pattern, Professor Richard Bradford, Professor of English, University of Ulster

Poetic Devices @  Figures of Speech

WOT IS POETRY?

Poetry is easier to appreciate than define;  It is much like jazz:

Louis Armstrong when asked, What is Jazz?” replied, “Man, if you don’t know, I can’t tell you.”

The Greeks considered the Poet a medium through which the Muses relayed the Language of the Gods.

Hazlett — The language of imagination and of passion

Shelley — Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the best and happiest minds.

Wordsworth  “All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”.

Alfred Whitehead:   fools act on imagination without knowledge, pedants act on knowledge without imagination".

(6 year old boy) -  Poetry is when words sing.

Poetry is sound with meaning which challenges the imagination.

 Poetry is the expression of deeply felt emotions or feelings characterised by an intensity of thought and consciousness of thought patterns.

Poetry is Personal — an attempt to capture the experience of significant moments of life.

Poetry is central to each person’s core existence—of unique value to the fully realised life.

Poetry celebrates the joys and mysteries of existence.

Poetry demonstrates the ineffability of the human condition; language’s inability to bridge the chasm between our individual existences, revealing the inescapable fact of our aloneness.  

All fiction attempts to approximate feelings and emotions that defy articulation. 

W.H. Auden once defined the chief criterion for reviewing poetry:

  "Pleasure, he said, is not an infallible guide but it is the least fallible."

Nietzsche:  “To experience pain is to have certainty; to hear about pain — is to have doubt.”

Roger McGough:

Children have a poetic sensibility that is knocked out of them by well-meaning adults. "They [children] make disparate links, in the way Aristotle says; they see things that we don't normally see. They make connections all the time, and the way they use words, 'Dad, the candle's crying.' And we say, 'No, the candle isn't crying; the candle isn't crying, it's the molecules agitated by the heat ...'

Philip Larkin:

'You walk an impressionistic tightrope and sometimes it's a success and sometimes you fall off.'

Robert Gray:

 Poetry’s fundamental position; its opposition to every form of cliché.

Mark Tredinnick:

To me Poetry is the architecture of utterance.  A poem is like a sculpture made out of thought and sound and articulation……It is an intense sharp straining towards a form of original words, the right shape to hold the spirit that moved you.  You hope that when you are done someone else reading it will feel it couldn’t have been put otherwise”.

My work …seems like a gift – a gift I’d like to give back… Poetry sometimes tells difficult truths so beautifully no one can turn away…this is what my writing attempts.   Alex Speed, Spectrum Feb. 26-27 2011 

W.B. Yeats:

         When we quarrel with others, we make rhetoric;

         When we quarrel with ourselves, we make poetry.

Carl Sandburg’s Ten definitions of poetry:

 1. Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave—lengths.

2. Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly the air.

3. Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations.

4.. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.

5. Poetry is a theorem of a yellow—silk handkerchief knotted with riddles, sealed in a balloon tied to the tail of a kite flying in a white wind, against a blue sky in spring.

6. Poetry is the silence and. speech between a wet struggling root of a flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower.

7. Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling life and. then entombing it.

8. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and. why they go away.

9. Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

10. Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment.

Seamus Heaney

I wanted that truth to life to possess a concrete reliability, and rejoiced most when the poem seemed most direct, an upfront representation of the world it stood in for or stood up for or stood its ground against.

 Even as a schoolboy, I loved John Keats's ode "To Autumn" for being an ark of the covenant between language and sensation; as an adolescent, I loved Gerard Manley Hopkins for the intensity of his exclamations which were also equations for a rapture and an ache I didn't fully know I knew until I read him; I loved Robert Frost for his farmer's accuracy and his wily down-to-earthness; and Chaucer too for much the same reasons. Later on I would find a different kind of accuracy, a moral down-to-earthness to which I responded deeply and always will, in the war poetry of Wilfred Owen, a poetry where a New Testament sensibility suffers and absorbs the shock of the new century's barbarism. Then later again, in the pure consequence of Elizabeth Bishop's style, in the sheer obduracy of Robert Lowell's and in the barefaced confrontation of Patrick Kavanagh's, I encountered further reasons for believing in poetry's ability - and responsibility - to say what happens, to "pity the planet," to be "not concerned with Poetry."

I went for years half-avoiding and half- resisting the opulence and extensiveness of poets as different as Wallace Stevens and Rainer Maria Rilke; crediting insufficiently the crystalline inwardness of Emily Dickinson, all those forked lightnings and fissures of association; and missing the visionary strangeness of Eliot. And these more or less costive attitudes were fortified by a refusal to grant the poet any more license than any other citizen; and they were further induced by having to conduct oneself as a poet in a situation of ongoing political violence and public expectation. A public expectation, it has to be said, not of poetry as such but of political positions variously approvable by mutually disapproving groups.

It is vitally important to realise that good works of art are complex, ambiguous, conflicted and problematic – they do not provide answers, merely raise important issues many of which are not resolved.  No one has a monopoly on interpretation of the text and each reader has as much entitlement to adopt a view as the next. 

T.S. Eliot put it thus:

“The reader’s interpretation may be different from the author’s and be equally valid – it may even be better.  There may be much more in a poem than the author is aware of. “

Eliot later examined the ineffability of communication in The Love-Song of J.Alfred Prufrock where he has his persona admit:

“It is impossible to say just what I mean!” …….. and later

"That is not what I meant at all./ That is not it, at all."

T.S. Eliot made many other comments that help us understand poetry such as:

“Poetry can communicate before it is understood”

This is illustrated by Robert Cormier inThe Chocolate War (p. 96)

Jerry opened his locker. He had thumbtacked a poster to the back wall of the locker on the first day of school. The poster showed a wide expanse of beach, a sweep of sky with a lone star glittering far away. A man walked on the beach, a small solitary figure in all that immensity. At the bottom of the poster, these words appeared — "Do I dare disturb the universe"? by Eliot, who wrote the Waste Land (?) thing they were studying in English. 

Jerry wasn’t sure of the poster’s meaning. But it had moved him mysteriously.

And:

“The reader’s interpretation may be different from the author’s and be equally valid – it may even be better.  There may be much more in a poem than the author is aware of. “

Aristotle's profound observation:

"The superiority of poetry over history consists in its possessing a higher truth and a higher seriousness".

Ted Hughes, in a letter to Keith Sagar. THL 23 May 1974:

Poems belong to the reader – just as houses belong to those who live in them not to the builder” 

As Sylvia Plath later, would use her writing as therapy; by a frank and full admission of her pain, hoping for some release of tension and an exorcism of the demons that haunted her, some of Dickinson’s poems, intensely emotional, yet never dissolving into sentimentality, reveal a troubled soul searching for understanding and acceptance.

Franz Kafta  “Writing should be an axe for the frozen sea inside us.” 

***************************

‘Nothing replaces the reader’s responses: the sound of poetry on both the outer and inner ear, the visions of fiction in the mind’s eye, the kinaesthetic assault of total theatre’   Handbook of Criticism – Guerin.

Emily Dickinson expressed her technique: 

"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--/ Success in Circuit lies."

Rita Dove, a former American poet laureate claims: “poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful,”

Susan Sontag once wrote an essay advocating “an erotics of art,”: that poetry is for lovers, not cryptologists.  

Virginia Woolf:  “every phrase should soak up as much truth as it can hold”.

All we can do is enjoy the poetry by letting the sounds flow over us and try to gain some insights.

Writers write for a variety of reasons, but mainly to voice their concerns; some write to document the times – chronicle or crystallise experience and distil the essence of history to give it permanency, while others use it as an emotional release of pent up tension and some write for the edification or moral uplifting of the world. 

 

Parnassian \pahr-NAS-ee-uhn\, adjective:  From Dictionary.com

1. pertaining to poetry.
2.
 pertaining to Mount Parnassus.
3.
 of, pertaining to, or noting a school of French poets of the latter half of the 19th century, characterized chiefly by a belief in art for art's sake, by an emphasis on metrical form, and by the repression of emotive elements: so called from Le Parnasse Contemporain, the title of their first collection of poems, published in 1866.
4.
 a member of the Parnassian school of French poets.

However, your quest is dignified by its very disinterestedness; it is distanced from real human concerns and suffering; it is Parnassian, academic, aloof, elitist.
-- David Lambkin,
 The Hanging Tree, 1998

Then coming down from those Parnassian heights you have university libraries, and private research libraries, and then maybe the big public libraries, and then district and branch libraries, and school libraries, hospital libraries, libraries in prisons, and long-term mental institutions.
-- Ian Sansom,
 The Case of the Missing Books, 2010

Parnassian comes from a school of French poets whose first collection of poems was called Le Parnasse Contemporain.

Pierian        \pahy-EER-ee-uh n\    adjective

1. of or relating to poetry or poetic inspiration.

2. of or relating to the Muses.

Origin of Pierian

Pierian is from the placename Pieria, the reputed home of the Muses in Greek mythology. It entered English in the late 1500s.


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