As we navigate an age of velocity and information, it is often easy to befall the entrapment of disengagement with our own simplicity as human beings. The Artist is a figure attributed to emotion, and as such, it holds dominion over such a vast and spectral realm, that the sensation if of infinitude. But although emotions might be infinite in variables, we’re not. We are inherently capped beings with limits and thresholds, those which we can expand and increase with effort and work, but never fully evade them all-together.
I’ve talked much about format and content and how they must be weighed simultaneously, but one of the greatest reflection of that is the act of overdraw, where we feel the need and obligation to feel so original, so nouvelle, that we start sacrificing the very foundations of what makes poetry, well, poetry.
I also talk much about what poetry is to me (emphasis on to me), but for understanding my view, one must understand where it comes from:
“Prose: words in their best order; poetry: the best words in the best order.”
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The simplest, most sincere description of poetry I think I’ve ever come across. Why? Well, if we extend the topic, we can get a grasp of how divisive the opinion over poetry is. Some say it is lyrical, others say it is formless, and most say it is simply the act of versing. The boundaries of such are virtually non-existent. According to present Academia, an entire book about nuclear chemistry can constitute a poem, might it be claimed as such by the author, especially when illogically, in my view, poetic prose was placed on the category of poetry and not prose. We might as well name is a prosaic poem.
I reject this notion when applied to poetry that I’m interested in purchasing, again, it is necessary to draw the separation between poetry as a therapy and artistic release, and poetry as a commerce and constituent Art.
Because if poetry doesn’t need to be anything, well, then it doesn’t need to exist, just another term whose vagueness makes it dispensable. That is exactly why it is vanishing, because of that shift to the unreal, because people have so little to expect nowadays when they buy a poetry book, it simply isn’t a genre they can truly identify with. There is nothing to materially identify with, there are no shapes to feel, akin to standing in an dark room and be expected to find the needle.
We order to reclaim the singular and unique form poetry once had — that of being the best words in their best order — we must be wary of what those words and that order mean, and in this case, substance and form.
Modernism made us aware that substance is very mutable and specific, so one must outcast the idea that certain words must be used in order to achieve certain results. Emotion isn’t math, and nor is poetry. That much, I absolutely agree with — as Bukowski showed us, we mustn’t be geniuses to express ourselves with brilliancy, because sincerity and conveyance are often times more important than the subject actually being conveyed.
Modernism deconstructed a toxic fuel to poetry, but it left a lot to desire when it came to form. Authors like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, for example, are notable exceptions of the movement in great part because of their stunning formation of thoughts, and even if seen as a strike at lyricism at the time, they both maintained a brilliant rhythm and sound formation. But these, as good as they might be, do not fully represent the Modernistic movement, and at the time, many authors stomped form into a grain of insult. (So much so, Frost would be incessantly attacked for being too traditional compared to his Modernistic contemporaries, something still happening today within poetry circles).
We want new things, we want better things, but we often disregard what has come before, may it not fit our creative will. But how can one create something truly new without knowledge of what has already been done? Of what worked and did not?
And form isn’t just lyricism or rhyme, it isn’t syllabic division or stanzaic structures, nor is it sestinas, haikus and sonnets. Form is less than all of that, because it is simply how you transmit what you want to transmit, what vehicle moves you towards your words rather than furthering the distance. And that might be simply verse autonomy, or the usage of extreme punctuation. Unlike content, form is not infinite, but its limitations shouldn’t be something that scares us, but rather, dares us to find ways to create freely.
In reality, I have the absolute notion that none of my poems are truly new, they have references and influences, and I’m aware of all of them, because that awareness allows me to reshape my thoughts into something only I could construct. Words are to poetry as oil is to a canvas, they’ve all been seen before, broken apart merged together, but your dance with these old fragments of communication and beauty, that beautiful waltz of colour, that is something indisputably yours. A poem which I can call truly mine is still floating at distant seas, but I write as I swim, and one day, I’m gonna get there.
All I ask, after all of this, is that you come with me.
P.S: Have you ever heard of Bossa Nova? If so, check out Baden Powell‘s “Poesia On Guitar“, an album that attempts to translate poetry into melodic tracks without singing, and it brilliantly manages to do just that.