On the Meaning of Poetry
Preamble to this post:
Whereas POETRY, being defined by Merriam-Webster as “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm” and by Oxford Dictionary as “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature”:
And as LITERATURE being defined by Merriam-Webster as “writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest” and by Oxford Dictionary as “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit”:
Therefore, I will commence to perhaps finally introduce myself to POETRY, thereby to determine whether or not my creations are, indeed, to be considered poetry.
Emotion is something I’m good at. Too good at, perhaps, a bit tipsy at, even. I’ve tried to educate the emotional out of me, to view everything through slowly formulated, data-specific stiff, logical answers. But there, did you see that? Even sticking a little word like ‘stiff’ into that sentence makes the whole idea take on a negative tone. Corpses are stiff. Living things are fluid, malleable and adaptive.
Emotion is something I’m good at, at least in myself. I don’t know how the emotions relate to you because I’m not you. Sometimes we’re similar, almost the same. Most times, we’re very different. It’s hit or miss every time I take the keys. Intensity, though, that’s something I have. At least most days, because life has taught me that that, too, is not a venerable trait. Too intense, too deep. These things are not good, people say. Balance. One must always have balance.
Distinctive. Artistic merit. Those are things I struggle with. Do I use up all the big words I used in big-people school or dumb it down for the general consumption of the masses? Is “dumbing down” an insult to humanity or a tool to communicate broad ideas in sweeping brushtrokes? Is there broccoli in my teeth? The choice to be precise and articulate or vague and abstract spins about in my mind like the needle of a compass, wobbly and dependent upon where I am standing.
Expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest. I can do that, right? The brushtrokes. Pain. Death. Love. Creation. These are things all humans understand, but would a thirsting child in a war-torn world be interested in my poetry? Would a hummingbird pause to hear my musicless song? Can poetry ever do such a thing, and is that to be our chief aim?
I think, in the end, then, we are all failures. From nobel laureate to ten-year-old lyricist, Wolf to Shelley to Dickinson and back again.
But maybe we weren’t meant to succeed. Maybe it’s not about succeeding at all, but about stabbing about with emotional intensity for the heart of a thing until it stops beating in our ears.