What is Poetry?

A question for my fellow poets.

“But it doesn’t rhyme!”

This was the comment of a friend after I did a reading this summer of my collection “Breaking the Surface.” I haven’t written rhymed poetry, except for a few specimens of doggerel and several limericks since college.

However, I’ve thought seriously about trying again to tackle some of the more formal forms of poetry. Some of the students in the in this summer’s Rhinelander School of the Arts, were extremely good at it. One woman was trying her hand at each of the sonnet forms.

So what is poetry? What distinguishes free verse from prose and a good sonnet from doggerel?

In a discussion with friends I found I couldn’t come up with anything more definitive than Coleridge’s classic explanation of the “diverse fruit.” His idea was that poetry took two ideas and rather than simply stitching them together, fused the ideas through some sort of verbal alchemy created an entirely new entity.

Oddly enough, although I don’t know what it is, I know what poetry feels like. I’ve often told audiences that for me, novels come from the head. There’s entirely too much cerebration in building character, constructing plot, creating scene and dialogue to be completely satisfying to me. I love short story and think it may be the best thing I do. Short story comes directly from the heart. It pours out in one discrete and complete unit, terse and to the point, often with a touch of O’Henry, Bret Harte or Poe the authors who first caught my attention.

I may not be entirely sure where my soul is, but it seems to be located deep inside in some place even more hidden that my heart. When the Muse speaks from there, its poetry, and I love writing it. Whatever the fusion is that happens, it is beyond all the tricks we are taught or know instinctively. It’s beyond juxtaposition, concreteness, image and all the tools we use. It’s glorious.

Note: If you haven’t logged on to Robin Chapman’s blog, check her out. She puts up poems that have been published elsewhere, so it’s a new outlet for you. She also illustrates her blog with her own wonderful water colors.

Another round of thanks to Christine Swanberg and Mary Sue Koepple who provided the lovely words for the back of “Breaking the Surface.” Let me draw your attention especially to Mary Sue’s “WriteCorner.” I can’t enter her poetry contests, because I’m usually one of her stundents. student, but it’s open to all others.