The Nature of Poetry
I’ve written poetry since I was fifteen years old. Looking back at two decades worth (granted there were a number of periods were my productivity was extremely low in this area), I discovered that what I liked best of what I’d written usually had some kind of structure and almost always a rhyme scheme. While I’m not completely in line with Robert Frost (Often quoted and misquoted as saying that “writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.”), I very often don’t see the difference between free verse and prose with arbitrary line breaks. Structure can be visual, but my preference for poetry is that it’s read aloud or echoes in the halls of the mind. If I have to look at it to see the structure, how do I distinguish it from prose? (By the structure, of course. Ah, one must enjoy circular arguments.) Mostly I don’t, so it isn’t poetry in my eyes.
I had my definition of poetry broadened by a friend sometime back (for which I thank her). There was a time when I believed poetry had to rhyme. I’m past that now, though most of what I write has a rhyme scheme of some sort, as does most of what I read. There still needs to be structure, though.
I don’t read very much modern poetry because I don’t like much of it. Modern poetry seems to be obsessed with trying to find a crystal clear image and surrounding it with pretty words splashed on the page with random line breaks, or to dazzle with excessive cleverness. Not my thing. Many of my favourite poems are decades or centuries old. “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service, “To A Mouse” by Robert Burns, Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”, and Shelley’s “Ozymandius”. But there’s always room for growth.
A couple of years ago, I began to experiment with forms and structures, seeking out anything formalized I could find to try. I’ve found more than two hundred distinct forms, not counting variants within a form – a Sonnet is a Sonnet is a Sonnet and I don’t count English, Italian, or French as distinct forms – and I’ve attempted more than half of them. Some I like and some I don’t. Some I find very easy to work with, and some are incredibly difficult (and not always the ones I expect). Some seem to be just people with too much spare time trying to be clever, but I try not to dismiss anything out of hand.
Formal structure or not, rhyme or occasionally not, I continue to write, and sometimes share. And speaking of Sonnets:
Long past the changing date I lie awake
And feel each breath my love lets past her lips.
I hold the rise and fall that breathing makes.
Eyes closed, I taste again the night’s last kiss.
My hand, itself, strays to her scattered hair
And smoothes the lines that sleep gave disarray.
She stirs, then burrows deep. The cool night air,
By blankets and my warmth is forced away
And her slumber, undisturbed, goes on
Beneath my hand. As my own rest draws near,
I pull her close – my day now almost gone –
Until the beating of her heart is clear.
At peace beside my love this quiet night,
I sink into my dreams and all is right.