by Jarad and
I recently read Sir Phillip Sidney’s, “In Defense of Poesy,” for class, and it got me thinking about my own relationship with poetry. “In Defense of Poesy,” is an essay written during the time of Queen Elizabeth, in response to another essay, written by Stephen Gosson called “the School of Abuse,” which argued that poetry was a waste of time, the, “mother of lies,” (a BIT dramatic there if you ask me), the “nurse of abuse”. Gosson even said that Plato had been right to banish poets from his idealized commonwealth. That last bit is a little inaccurate, actually. Plato only banishes the rogue poets from his utopia, not all poets. But that’s really neither here nor there. Overall, Gosson had some harsh criticism for poetry, and while I sometimes find myself unmoved by poems, I wouldn’t say that it’s a waste of time because that seems like a slippery slope towards censorship, not a censorship by the state necessarily. Even a personal form of censorship is the enemy of free thought. A total ban on one type of expression will probably mean you miss something. Of course, it’s important to understand that “poesy” at the time referred to all fictionalized arts, even prose and drama. Poesy in this usage is the artistic sculpting of truth and beauty, expressing yourself in artifice and fiction, metaphor and symbol.
And that brings me to the category “poetry” today, which has become distinct from drama and fictional prose. I have a little…teensy…problem with poetry as we now understand it. It’s not that I don’t like poetry, it’s that, many times, a given poem doesn’t do much for me. What gives depth and meaning for many people often reads as artificial and contrived for me. And while I understand that the confines that poetry generally operates under are part of the art form and what define it; sometimes it just doesn’t land for me. Often, in class conversations, I end up feeling like I’ve missed something, hearing other people speak about how a poem moved them or made them feel such strong emotions. I swear I’m not a sociopath (BUT that is exactly what a sociopath would say isn’t it?) but I rarely ever get that reaction. (This means that if you see me share or praise poetry on Sacred Chickens – I mean it, guys!)
In reading, “In Defense of Poesy,” I found myself conflicted - I have always had a complicated relationship with poetry, especially modern poetry. Highly lyrical texts that obscure the meaning that the author is trying to convey have never held much sway with me, although as I said, I’ve enjoyed many of the poetry submissions for Sacred Chickens. In other words, I don’t seek out the category “poetry” as a go to.
I do love some romantic poets like Poe (my favorite, although I would argue his stories are also top tier), Byron, and others. I have always enjoyed reading “Leaves of Grass.” It is a joy to read because of the way it speaks about nature and because of Whitman’s innovations, the way it challenged poetical norms.
I suppose there’s a level on which I don’t like rules, guidelines, required ways of doing and being. For that reason, I suppose, poetry can feel very restrictive to me, which is where free verse comes in - most of the poetry I like is free verse - although sometimes if a free verse poem is long enough, I think it’s just become a short story. I suppose there’s something narrative about the way I see the world, about how I want my information delivered. In every poem, I want to know more, more about the characters, their lives, and their motivations. The details, the extra, the plot has always been a source of endless fascination for me, both in fiction and real life. Poetry, to me, has always been about conveying a snippet of information that leaves me wanting more. Lyrical poetry conveys an emotion, and to me it rarely does it effectively. In short, I always feel as though I need more. Poems can lack enough definition for me to be invested in them. When poetry is done right, I find it immensely moving, but I never find an in between. Poetry is never just, “okay,” for me. It exists in extremes.
I also find myself wondering where we draw the line between poetry and short stories, or short stories and novels. In the defense of poesy Sir Philip talks about the virtues of the poetical form, and he’s talking about things that every form of literature does. To teach, to entertain, to show us what could happen. Literature, as a whole, is meant to be defiant, challenging to authority, rebellious, in a sense, of the norms that it critiques. Though I don’t love all poetry, just because it’s poetry, all of the poems I love have similar qualities. It’s never there just to make you comfortable or offer an escape, in my opinion. Even when a book is labeled, “escapist literature,” there is usually social commentary or an underlying message. It’s never just dragons, although I do love them, adorable giant lizards that they are.
Morty on Poetry–
I like poetry because it is not narrative, although it may draw more out of your heart and head than you knew you had locked away. A poem is a distillation, a suggestion, a beam of light catching the ripple on the pond. It’s a meditation, a purely vertical moment that pierces through one moment into the eternal. It’s letting your mind wander from the larger political implications of trash disposed of on the road to the ray of sun scattering over the broken bottle in the grass.
Limits keep the poem sharp and piercing. Think about it this way. A poem is your favorite vase. It suggests a flower to you. Each vase will contain a finite number of blooms. The amber bottle you found at the bottom of the garden will quietly ask for three of the daisies you notice growing by the ditch. The cut glass bowl your grandmama left you seems to want peonies now but will demand the sacrifice of six fat hydrangea blooms as the summer wears on. Tall vases suggest S shaped curves of upright flowers and ivy. In every case, the result, though confined, is unique. The vase provides the form, the form suggests the content, but every time, with every flower, the content has a new soul.
A vase of flowers reflected indistinctly on the wormy gold of a maple table is not a walk in a garden, but it contains the idea of a garden, is haunted by the idea of gardens you have loved and roses you have experienced by sight, touch, scent. The content thus contained can be absorbed. It can in a sense be more fully seen than the sweeping vista from the top of the largest garden and its enjoyment will not prevent you from adding new gardens, or forests, or mountain tops to your soul. And those experiences will return to haunt the content of your next bouquet, small, selected, restrained.
It seems to your Uncle Morty that the ideas of containment, distillation, and limits are what give poetry its power.