Monday, October 19, 2009

Why poetry?

People seem too polite to ask, and probably too uncertain of the answer I might give to ask the question, "why poetry?". But I suspect many people when they've heard my plan for next year - to write and study poetry, or simply learn of my interest in poetry, are a little perplexed. So I thought I'd put a few words down in an attempt to answer such a question, not just to respond to people's unspoken curiosity, but also to think it through for myself.

The truth is I don't particularly know 'why poetry' - and that's perhaps the appeal. It's a mysterious art, the power of which is in what isn't said as much as what is. Meaning in poetry is a vapour, touching on a leaf here and there, only to disappear. This elusiveness is perhaps what drew me in originally, while study poetry at school. Here were people saying things in a controlled, yet playful way with concision, and managing to convey more meaning and perhaps truth than an entire essay.

The practice of writing poetry is elusive too - ideas and phrases arrive without notice. It's an exhilarating thing to watch something come to life in words. This quote I recently read on Edward Byrne's blog expresses this "recklessness" of composition well:

“At every moment the poet must be ready to abandon any prior intention
in welcome expectation of what the poem is beginning to signal. More than
intending, the poet attends. Attends to the conspiracy of words as it reveals
itself as a poem, to its murmurs of radiant content that may be encouraged to
shout, to its muffled music there to be discovered and conducted. Revision is
just that, and it begins before the first word is even written . . . .” —From
Dean Young’s “Beyond Intention: Poetry and the Art of Recklessness,” Poets &
Writers Magazine (Nov./Dec. 2009)

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