Poetry fills an aching need within the poet to express emotions that cannot be expressed otherwise. And poetry enables poets and their audiences, whether readers or listeners, to establish intimate emotional bonds. Sometimes—more often than not, it seems—the words of a poem are less important than the beauty of the way they intertwine with one another. The images arising from a flood of words ordered just so jolt the senses and force a radical shift in perspective. Poetry does not necessarily lead to deeper understanding, but frequently it leads to unearthing the understanding buried beneath the scree of an avalanche of daily tasks and challenges. I sometimes get lost under piles of mindless routine. Poetry helps me find my way out.
Yet I know of people who view poetry with disdain, believing it to be the embodiment of arrogance and pretension. I think those people may also think poetry is evidence of the poet’s weakness or emotional fragility. By extension, they see people who read or listen to poetry as weak and emotionally fragile. That may be true of some poets and some aficionados of poetry. The same might be said for some producers of violent video games and their followers; that is, there is no causal or correlational connection, in my view. I think good poets are sensitive; that is, their perceptions of their surroundings is highly developed. But sensitivity and weakness are not synonymous. Not at all.
Prose sometimes does the thinking for the reader. Poetry usually requires to reader (or listener) to think for himself or, at least, fill in the gaps between images or ideas. It is poems’ incompleteness that makes them belong to both the poet and the consumer of poetry. What the poet intends in writing the poem may not be what the audience understands the poem to mean; that difference is part of the appeal of poetry.
I write about poetry as if I were a poet or a scholar of poetry. I am neither, though I do write poetry from time to time and I read poetry. When I read poetry, I do not read to understand the poet; I read it to understand myself. So, I am no scholar. But I am a cheerleader for poetry in general. Yet I am not an apologist for poetry that I think is either badly written or so cryptic or labyrinthine as to be incomprehensible. I may not know poetry, I know what I like. And I may appreciate poems I do not like.
Just like the population of prose writers has its share of bad writers who think they are beyond genius, there are among writers of poetry plenty of hacks with no talent. For some reason, I simply dismiss bad prose writers, but I find hack poets contemptible human beings that deserve ridicule, scorn, and banishment from the writerhood. I’m not quite sure why I feel that way. I may well be one of those writers of poetry who, were I reading as a disinterested outsider, I would classify as a hack poet. I’m glad I’m on the inside looking out, unable to distinguish my contemptible flaws.
I have no credentials that warrant my expression of opinions about poets and poetry or writing in general. I’m just opinionated. And my opinions can change, when I am exposed to illuminating information. That is, I am subject to waffling.
Thanks, Pat. You’ve hit the nail on the head!
Very well said, John. Like most art – a poem often points at TRUTH in ways that prose cannot. Coming at this from the “non-artist’s” perspective brings this matter closer to us all. Thank you!