I have always had a rather unstable relationship with poetry. Usually, when asked what I think about it, I reply rather lamely, “Poetry and I have a love/hate relationship; I love mine but hate everyone else’s”.
Below is an attempt to ‘write it out’: to explain, mainly to myself, what it is and how I can make this relationship more productive, and stop worrying about it.
In the musical play Carousel, a spruiker called Bill, and Julie, who works in a mill, try to tell each other how they feel. They don’t have the words to be true to such feelings so they sing it to make it real: what “if I loved you?” The scene needs the music to supply the emotion and for the would-be-lovers to be who they are, not for writers to give them words they would never use. Songs in musicals happen when words are not enough. Poetry happens when prose in not enough.
To describe a spectacular tree, you can try to write it realistically as best you can but if it is truly spectacular you will get to a stage where you have to forget what you see and write what you feel; what it reminds you of; what the words are for: sense, surprise, and metaphor.
When Auden wrote “As I walked out one evening, walking down Bristol Street” he described what he did, and then what he saw, but what he saw was so such more and he had no words that did justice to the scenery, “The crowds upon the pavement” so he slipped into poetry, “were fields of harvest wheat.” And this adds meaning and insight; yes, and there’s rhyme and rhythm of course, a tune if you like.
What confuses poetics for the readers of verse is that so often the text is so personal, perverse, and has no meaning, no revelation; but like masturbation, it may satisfy the writer, but does nothing for the reader.
I’m going to read more poetry now and stop flogging myself since it isn’t a test. I’ll treasure those words that light something up, and dismiss those that maybe a gas for the poet, but hot air for the rest of us.