#070–What makes poetry…well, poetry?

I was hoping to review The Georgics by Virgil today, but let’s just say I gave up in frustration because the poetic nature just got too baffling for me to continue. I used to like poetry, or trying to read it, but I don’t get it anymore.

Maybe I never really did, and just thought I did.

When I first really tried to get back into writing a few years ago, I started looking hard at my old poetry, from late high school and early college. Much of it stank, like I was trying too hard to force it into a structure that didn’t work right, or the word choices were terrible. Some of it I thought was pretty good, but was written so long ago I had a hard time figuring out how the hell I did it in the first place.

It’s a bit like when you start writing a thesis paper in college, and then you get to the end and what you hand into the professor. If you look back at those first pages of notes, that first draft, you might find yourself scratching your head going “how the hell did I get this from THAT?”

Yeah, a bit like that.

And I did try to make new poetry in those days. I’d be in a particularly crazy mood and get into a writing frenzy, throwing poem after poem into my notebook…then slow down and try to edit.

But I haven’t shown many of them to anybody. It’s not that I’m embarrassed. It’s that I don’t know how to feel about them. Some of them would be better off as inspirations for slam poetry (which I mostly love, but it’s meant to be performed, not read, so it’s no wonder it looks funny on the page). Yes, some I’ve set aside to maybe become slam poems, so I’m not talking about those.

I’m talking about poetry meant to be read, absorbed, maybe read aloud in a setting meant for contemplation more than emotive performance.

But the concept and accepted structure of poetry seems to have changed a lot from when I studied it in school and first tried writing it. I was on a long hiatus afterward, writing too many research papers to consider writing or reading anything that smacked of fiction or overly-descriptive.

But I’ve always wanted to write, and poetry was a good option.paper-1143117_640

I’ve never gotten a hit on anything I’ve tried to write and submit to poetry contests or publications, but maybe that’s a good thing because it forced me to take a bunch of looks into what was being published.

I did my research–and now I wish I had a copy of Poetry for Dummies on my shelf to peruse, because I am lost.

I now have to ask a question I thought I’d never ask: what makes poetry poetry?

When I studied in school, we had rhyme schemes, structure, word choices, rhythm crammed into our noggins as to how to write poetry and what sets it apart. That’s not always the case, it seems.

I got a few poetry publications (and sheesh, how expensive THEY are) the past couple of years, just picking 1 or 2 up at random times to peruse through.

I wanted to throw them away, confused.

Now, some poems in these publications, like Poetry or Southern Poetry Review, have poems with a structure and discernible rhyme I’m more accustomed to.

And then there’s the poetry that has the lines and stanzas all over the place, and I can’t figure out why the author had to make the poem look like that. I don’t mean those poems about trees where the poem ends up looking like a tree itself because of line placement. Those have something neat to them, and I’ve seen them before. But rather the poems that have three lines left, then two right justified, then one in the middle, then four left, then one right, then three in the middle. There’s no picture, and I can’t figure out why they are making my eyes do double duty making sure I don’t get lost.

It feels pretentious, because I just don’t get the point. If there is one. And I am totally lost anyway.

But then there’s prose poetry. And it seems like it’s growing in publishing popularity.

I just don’t get it. I don’t feel like you should read it just on the page, but if someone was reading it aloud to an audience, what would be the difference between a short story in a text block and this?

That’s what it feels like. I don’t think all poetry should be like Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein, for crying out loud, but if there’s no rhythm or rhyme to it that you can decipher, what makes it poetry?

Is it the descriptives? Some of this looks straightforward, like a lengthy caption to some artwork they saw on the wall one day and decided to write their feelings on.

Is it the block text, lines all about the same length?

Maybe it’s the internal rhyme, but I can’t get rhythm out of it (and some of them I can’t discern any internal rhyme either).

Prose poetry baffles me. I tried to read it aloud and got nothing out of it. I tried looking at beginnings and endings of lines to see what was there.Student Reading Books Shows Learning

I just don’t know what makes some poetry be considered poetry. Maybe I never really did. Sometimes I bump into some great poetry that’s online or in a book and I’m like wow, that was great.

But what’s being published by poetry contests and the like, or in poetry publications? I wonder what it is they’re looking for, because I just don’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to write for the sake of writing, and in my own voice, but I’d like to be able to appreciate others’ work as well. But if I can’t understand it, that’s going to be rough. And i have lots of books from great poets that I’m going to start reading and reviewing by next year (and some Shakespeare ones coming up).

I just can’t grasp modern poetry much if at all, and the format of it. It makes me question all poetry and why it’s been considered poetry all this time now.

So, what makes poetry poetry? What makes something not poetry? What makes prose poetry into poetry?

Any takers, advice givers, fellow writers out there with a clue? I just can’t wrap my head around some of this stuff and am tired of beating my head against the wall over it. Maybe if I understand it better, I can expand my own horizons and get what it is I need to do to tweak my own work and make it better.

And expand my poetry-reading to the 21st century without apprehension.


3 thoughts on “#070–What makes poetry…well, poetry?

  1. Robbie Yates says:

    Good question. I think poetry is poetry if the poet has thoughtfully chosen its structure, rhythm, metre etc.; whether it is a good poem or not is up to the audience or reader to decide.

    However, I know next-to-nothing so you’d best ignore everything I just said 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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