Not Yet a Poet?

I have to admit that the very first genre I wrote in was poetry. I grew up with Whitman, Longfellow, and Tennyson. I could not get enough of Frost or Stevenson. Shakespeare’s sonnets were my nightly prayers and Shelley was my moon. A little later, I met Hopkins and Arnold, the Williamses and Eliot, Donne and Burns. They were not the only ones, I must confess. There were dozens of others and, for a while, I even pursued a cummingesque stage. It wasn’t always serious poetry, because I always found a way to return to Nash and Lear. A course on Japanese literature and culture renewed my interest in the short forms of haiku and tanka, and the purist in me cringes when I read haiku that don’t fulfill the original purpose of the form.

The best thing about poetry, and I say this to encourage all writers to try their hand at it, is both the freedom of the form as well as the challenge of expressing ideas, emotions, or incidents in very few words—unless you are writing epic poetry or some narrative form, in which case you could have a whole book, as was the case with Dante. It’s not likely we will return to writing drama in verse form as Shakespeare did, nor are do we see many lengthy contemporary poems that run over a few pages.

On the other hand, multiculturalism has opened up several forms of poetry not frequently observed in the canon of literature in English and we now celebrate Hispanic, Italian, French, German, and Arabic forms and writers. Not surprising is that a large proportion of that poetry is from the past century or earlier. Probably because it takes longer for poetry to establish a foothold in the classical literary canon. Regardless of the geographic or cultural origin of the poetry that move you, the fact that it does move you is what makes poetry succeed. Like any other great literature, it must have the power to move the readers, the power to connect with the readers, so readers recognize some universal truth in what they read.

Regardless of how you do or do not incorporate figures of speech, rhythm, or rhyme, if the poem resonates or strikes a chord in the reader, it succeeds. If you are not a writer of poetry, I encourage you to try your hand at it. Read some poetry and when you find something that resonates with you, use it as a model, as an inspiration to write one of your own—or many. Every writer has that yearning to express something more personal without having to write a sentence or more. Every writer has words and thoughts that tug at their hearts and need to be released. You could just fall in love with free verse and, if you are brave enough to wander towards the deeper end, you might just discover some other form that works for you. You don’t have to become a poet. You just need to learn to express yourself personally in fewer words. Not only is it good practice for writing more concisely, you just might become a poet!

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