Quite some time ago, I was asked for an explanation as to what poetry is, from a man who had been taught at school that poetry means rhythm and rhyme. Being a big fan of free verse, I knew that couldn’t be it, but it’s a hard question to answer. I know when I’ve encountered it (and I feel much the same way about Druidry!) but that’s not a useful thing to offer a person. A long car journey with writer, publisher and creative writing teacher Anthony Nanson gave me chance to kick the question about and take advantage of his much cleverer mind.
Anthony suggested that rhyme and meter give you verse, but not necessarily poetry. It’s possible to say bland, empty, dull and tedious things with verse, after all.
I can see a little dog
Picking up a mouldy log
Running with it to a bog
Took its photo for my blog…
Poetry is more than this. If something is poetic, it is more than the sum of its parts. Something in the writing will create possibilities, moods, impressions that do more than the individual words were capable of.
“anyone lived in a pretty how town” – a bit of ee cummings, which I think makes the point. Everyday words, but not an everyday effect.There’s space in poetry where the reader/audience can bring something for themselves – in fact often must make this engagement for the writing to make full sense to them. The need to find your own meaning, to make something out of the juxtapositions and impressions can be very much part of the poetic experience.At a poetry book launch of Jay Ramsay’s several years ago, Jay said that poetry calls upon different parts of the brain to prose. It requires us to think differently to step out of our normal relationship with the world. It’s hard to pin this down as an experience – but that is part of what makes it itself. We are touched and changed in ways that are uniquely personal to each of us. Something gets in. Something is not the same.Granted, a beautiful piece of prose can have that effect to, but if it does, we tend to call the writing ‘poetic’ anyway.The conclusion I’ve come to, is that poetry is a little bit of enchantment.