I have been asked on more than one occasion, ‘why do you write poetry?’ Simple question - simple answer. Truth is, I enjoy using my small talent to express feelings, observations or...? Well anything in fact, that excites, interests, piques or intrigues me. It is also therapeutic inasmuch as I find, the exercising of mental faculties exercised in such a manner, to produce lines and stanzas of poetry, will spur me to achieve a degree of competence in my lines, that eventually produce a poem that is a both a pleasure to read, and awards more when composing. The ultimate reward is to find I have composed something others will regard as being worthy of the time and effort I spent on writing it.
Furthermore it will sometimes prove the means by which I can bare my soul, on something that causes extreme angst, or allows me with linguistic deviousness, to manipulate a common phrase to show there is more to it, than the obvious interpretation expected when one reads. It can also be employed as the means by which we express love, hatred or desire, and yet retain the anonymity of our identity, when composed in a third party theme. All this can be achieved in a poem, without being thought, weird or perhaps suffering from mental anguish. It will allow an unrestricted freedom of personal expression, seldom found or matched by the employ of other forms of writing. It may well prove aptly appropriate when used as therapy, for it allows the Poet an acceptable degree of comfort when approaching complex and delicate subjects. An argument deftly written disguised as poetry can lend an air of credence and/or gentle persuasion to a point made, without controversy, although it may be expressed in a bold, affirmative manner.
We’re often told, that baring the Soul is supposedly good therapy for us all, and many feel that after reading a well written poem, self analysis will unveil an explanation as to the Poet’s intentions? If you can understand the message contained within a poem, after having read and considered the words recorded, then arrive at a conclusion? You may well find you can lay to rest one of your personal subconscious 'fears'. By dint of careful observation, poetry will at times unwittingly tap into one’s deeper subconscious, and thus, the resulting message within a poem can prove revealing. On occasion there are poems read, that convince us, the words written, were captured most passionately, at a time when the Poet was able to access his “subliminal”. Even without his knowing he had consciously done so perhaps!
The ‘hidden’ meaning of a poem, may well illustrate our implicit view of the factual world, as we know it, for it can be most difficult. The truth is hard to discover, unless one is well trained, to analyse a hidden meaning, or one is very conscious of the author’s frame of mind and the normal “in your face’ personality they present to the world at large, when the poem was written. I compare the words of a poem to that of viewing a portrait or work of art. One sees the image on the canvas: it’s plain to see before our eyes, but one cannot begin to understand the inner or ‘true’ person that painted it, nor can we appreciate the state of mind of the artist, at the time he started his canvas.
Either by access to prior criticism or evaluation of a painting, we assume we understand the mood of the artist at the time of his painting his masterpiece, but frequently this is an erroneous presumption, as we have no idea of what his intent might have been? Likewise the same applies to a poem. We read: we presume: we evaluate: we conclude! But can we truly state we know the mood he felt, when the poem was written? Have we taken note of any subtle signs he may have hidden within his words?
On viewing a painting, there must be signs we look for and expect to see, before beginning to understand the reason the Painter was inspired to paint. With a myriad of subjects from which to choose, why did he select this ‘one’ theme? The same ‘need to know’ holds true if we are to truly understand a poem? The reader must possess a genuine understanding of the Poet’s feelings, before we can appreciate what he was trying to say. Even with that knowledge, it can still be most difficult to ‘know’ what really goes on behind the facade a Poet presents to the world. With some of the world’s most loved and appreciated Poets, their written lines permit the reader to glimpse the passion he felt at th moment of writing. This glimpse, may in turn, allow us to understand and appreciate the angst, locked within his lines! But there is no guarantee for much depends too, upon the comprehension of the reader. Pearls before swine seems appropriate!
The approach I employ, when reading poetry, is firstly, to read slowly to myself that I may grasp the salient or apparent meaning the Poet intended, before reading it aloud several times. This will allow me to attain a better sense of the mood or passion of the Poet when the poem was first written. Then, by changing the tenor of my voice and applying punctuation as he had applied, I get my first understanding. This for me, is thought a good ploy or habit to follow. It is one I would suggest all 'would be' authors follow before they finally put their composition to bed. It is only by so doing, that one will, at times, discover there’s a glaring mistake. One that smacks you in the face! More apparent when you are reading aloud than when you are silently scanning the lines. Human nature being most forgiving at times, many of us possess convenient, permissive interpretative senses when reading to ourselves. A misdemeanour that is all too common and one I know all too well! It is by reading aloud a completed poem in this manner, that one can often save themselves a later embarrassment.
Having written your lines, then there is ever a need to critique your work, and you will get no argument from me regarding this. Before a Poet admits to being satisfied with their finished lines, this is one other essential and all important requirement to undertake. Namely, don the garb of ‘devil’s advocate’ and criticise, analyse and discuss the reasons ‘why’ you wrote the lines you did? Personally however, I tend to work in reverse. Before putting pen to paper (figuratively speaking for few of us write in this manner today) I like to garner ideas then analyse my reason why I wish to write my poem.
It is most timely to remember a long ago learned procedure. One my old English Master, thought would be found to be of great benefit to his English students. He would always insist that before an author wrote a single line of text, be it essay, poem, diatribe, treatise or whatever? He should possess a clear plan as to what his intentions might be. Simplified, this amounts too little more than three basic steps, and to this day, it is a routine I endeavour to follow, when writing. In a nutshell, it was nothing more than ensuring you possess a rational opening or beginning, followed logically by a middle that leads the reader to the logical end. Something essential if one is to write a good poem. This is something we find a good story possesses, and poetry should be treated in exactly the same manner. (Admittedly there are some exceptions but they are few).
As this essay is concerned with poetry, I’ll stick with this. A good poem can be likened, to an Orchestral Recital. When listening to a Symphony, firstly we hear the Overture. Be it long or short, this sets the mood of the piece, and enables the listener (reader) to appreciate the intent of the recital (subject). This in turn is followed by the main Recital (middle) which is the ‘meat’ of the composition. This covers and expands the main topic and is the primary reason why we concentrate on listening (writing a poem). Be it short or long, this is the part whereby you expand, expound and express your theories: integrate mood, passion and possibly a personal viewpoint! This being the essence of the concert and then, most importantly, we reach the Finale. Without a satisfactory Finale, both the recital and the poem, will remain hanging in pointless anticipation for what next? Should there be none? Both the Recital and the Poem end in failure. It is only with a satisfactory Finale that one completes their composition by sowing up any loose ends. At the end of a Recital be it music or poetry, one can enjoy the satisfaction of recall and mulling over words or music, merely by sitting and allowing what you’ve heard (read) to work its way into your Soul.
It is also a time however, when you should dissect all aspects of what you have heard (read) before reaching a conclusion as to whether or not, your Soul was satisfied with what you were offered? Did the composition fail and leave you disappointed? Maybe your interest was briefly piqued, then you were disappointed or felt robbed because you expected more? Was the overall concert (poem) well crafted? Did it leave you with a feeling you were eager to read more? Did the Conductor (punctuation) apply expert control over the orchestra, that brought to fruition the craftsmanship inherent within the musical composition, or was it thought to be little more than the work of a writing hack? Did the Composer (author} keep a steady tempo/beat or cadence to the piece and so on. I’m sure you get my drift?
For now I will leave the reader to consider thoughts recorded here. It is my hope they will engender further thoughtful discussion, or will perhaps, lead some to look at poetry in a different light? Before I take this dissertation further, which may perhaps bore the reader, I will leave further commentary for another time.
Rhymer. February 3rd, 2012