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What is Poetry?

May I ask what is your definition of 'Poetry'? When does it rise from personal 'scribbling' to an 'art form'? Or is it an art form anymore, at all?
Wed, 22 Nov 2017 12:32 pm
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Well, Cynthia, you asked the questions, so here goes:

In my opinion, 'Poetry' is lines of literature that have a repeatable rhythm. That rhythm can be produced by the pace, by the number & shape of the syllables, or even by the punctuation. Whether it rhymes or not is irrelevant.

I consider myself an artisan poet because I am untrained. I've had no tuition in the construction of poetry, nor have I ever been to any sort of writing workshop. Just as an artisan baker will make fantastic bread using only the best basic ingredients, so I aim to use the wonderful English language to construct the message that I hope to pass on to my readers or listeners.

My poetic efforts are described as my 'scribblings' because that is what I do and how they are born. When I get an idea - or a phrase - I scribble it down before it can slip from my mind, just as morning mist disappears with the rising sun. I will then have to return to it, to polish it, to remove or change words, or even to delete whole passages. But they remain my scribblings.

As for 'Art Form' - well, I feel that's rather pretentious so would never use those words to describe the poems I construct. There are, of course, plenty of wonderful poems that could be considered as 'Art Form' but I haven't written any of them, nor have most of the poets I know.

Not a very sophisticated answer to your intelligent question but I hope it will make a modest contribution to the many responses that you'll certainly receive.

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 10:03 am
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If the reader thinks it's poetry, it is.
Thu, 23 Nov 2017 12:41 pm
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Or, conversely, if the writer thinks it's poetry, is it?
Fri, 24 Nov 2017 07:25 pm
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I enjoyed your response, Mr. Hartley.

And I totally agree: a deep love for, and real appreciation of our English language is the first criteria for any writing in our culture.

I don't think there is much 'training' anymore at all, in our European schools. It's almost a 'bad word' these days. But sensitivity to the world in general and empathy with the human condition, expressed in words carefully chosen from so many possibilities, can certainly be 'poetry'. Like yourself, my criteria are imagination, innate rhythm and honesty. And, of course, the inevitable arrogance that no one else has ever seen the world 'just like me!' Probably the most laughable, and sincerely likeable characteristic of us all.

I think active reading of all styles of poetry, both current and 'historical', is hugely beneficial, and from many arenas, including diverse cultures. Expansion - poetry is expansion.

Fri, 24 Nov 2017 08:08 pm
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What Is Poetry

John Ashbery

The medieval town, with frieze
Of boy scouts from Nagoya? The snow

That came when we wanted it to snow?
Beautiful images? Trying to avoid

Ideas, as in this poem? But we
Go back to them as to a wife, leaving

The mistress we desire? Now they
Will have to believe it

As we believed it. In school
All the thought got combed out:

What was left was like a field.
Shut your eyes, and you can feel it for miles around.

Now open them on a thin vertical path.
It might give us--what?--some flowers soon?
Tue, 28 Nov 2017 10:30 am
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I'll tell you what it isn't, it isn't definitively defined and never will be, thank goodness.

Of course anyone can join the throngs of people attempting to define it.

I'm sorry, it just seems a pointless exercise to me.


Tue, 28 Nov 2017 05:29 pm
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I suppose it's been around since language began. It seems to have always been respected enough to be memorized, recited and recorded. It is highly valued, deeply studied and constantly the source of passionate debate.
Perhaps this is so due to its power to inspire a sense of wonder, bring about a moment of delight or uncover what would otherwise remain lost to us.
Personally I do think of poetry as an art form comparable to music or painting. I hold it in the highest esteem and look to it for inspiration. So many times I am stunned by its strength, its delicacy, its generosity, its intensity. As hordes of poetry lovers do I find myself irresistibly drawn back again and again into its always open arms, and grateful for the chance.
Wed, 29 Nov 2017 11:35 pm
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I think that poetry can be defined as anything that an individual can claim to be poetry. For me poetry is an art form as are paintings sculpture music dance and many other forms. However what constitutes art for one person maybe complete nonsense for another. This is very often epitomised by different schools and styles of painting which some people will go overboard over and others will wonder what all the fuss is about. I see art and poetry in parts of everyday life particularly in the natural world where there is such outstanding beauty. That is not to say that we should not comment on those areas of life which are also discordant, but also consider the richness and diversity that exists and surrounds us all. Therefore I personally find it difficult to define exactly what poetry is but that probably won't stop me from trying to do so.
Sun, 3 Dec 2017 10:33 pm
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I wasn't attempting to stifle debate in fact I was doing the opposite, and it appears was somewhat successful. I certainly wasn't being dictatorial, I cannot imaging telling people what they should and shouldn't discuss that is ridiculous. I was implying that discussions based on opinion are often fruitless in terms of conclusions. Of course if it seemed dictatorial then there is not much I can do about it, other than suggest I was misunderstood and definitely misinterpreted.

I believe it is completely possible to move forward whilst accepting some things will never be definitively understood or defined in a unifying manner, and that is not to dismiss anything whatsoever, in the same way that science moves forward constantly revising and adjusting its ideas, though it rarely unites opinion more than divides it (which is healthy) of course poetry isn't quite a science yet, though goodness knows some like to treat it as such.

It is very much worth contemplating how we define things and why, I am not entirely sure how much value there is in discussing those matters particularly when conclusions are influenced more by opinion than fact, (when discussing the various artistic processes) unless it is simply for enjoyment or the pleasure of converse, and hearing the opinions of others.

I definitely would not compare or apply the logic of scientific progress and advancement of the human race through debate and discussion to how we might define what poetry is, to do so seems a massive leap to me as well as being hugely disproportionate.

I think what I was really saying is that poetry is in the ear, eye, mind of the beholder and we all have the gift to define it in our own way, and to permit others to do the same and to even discuss it if that is their desire (whether or not deemed pointless by anyone, let alone me). That idea is completely inclusive as opposed to exclusive, I would suggest.

Janusian thinking has an ability to render a person silent or voiceless, particularly when that process is misinterpreted as contradiction. The temptation to halt an internal debate should always be resisted, whereas sometimes it is beneficial to restrain the external debate, especially when it boils down to personal preferences and opinion, which is in itself an opinion of course.


Mon, 4 Dec 2017 07:38 am
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Graham Sherwood

Thank heavens that not everything in this world can be clearly defined.

Here's my very brief tuppence-worth!

"Whenever music, art, dance or words are created, they only become art when they are able to be appreciated/viewed/heard by others who have not created them"
Mon, 4 Dec 2017 10:27 am
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I like and appreciate that Graham, I especially like the qualification of "by others who have not created them"

I recoil at anyone defining themselves as a poet, I most certainly do not and if I ever have I retract it here and now unreservedly.

I refer to a sentence in my WoL biography, written when I joined the site.

"I lack the brass to refer to myself as a poet, that is a distinction to be made by others and not self"

Mon, 4 Dec 2017 11:20 am
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Excellent point, Graham.

I live; I think; I write. It is the writing that makes the leap into the second party scenario, the prime aim of most of us who 'write' being the desire, the need to share. Hence some form of publication, if only the scattering of pamplets along the sidewalk or a soap box on the corner.

Interestingly, does 'poetry' even exist without the secondary reader? Or listener? That private scribbling, however delightful to the scribbler, cannot be 'poetry' until it is shared. I like this idea: it needs more thought.

As probably does my sentence structure; but, never mind; clear enough, I think.
Mon, 4 Dec 2017 12:02 pm
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Graham Sherwood

Ahaa! Cynthia!

Your comments bring to mind that old adage

"If a tree falls in a forest and there is no-one there to hear the noise it makes, does it indeed make a noise"???

We'll never know!
Mon, 4 Dec 2017 01:05 pm
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Personally, I think if anyone is inclined enough to call their scribblings of prose poetry due to the poetic quality of their own words, then by all means jump that ship. It is all in the eye of the beholder. There are plenty of rappers passing themselves off as 'writers', 'poets', and everything in between, and no one argues with them- except those who actually do poetry on a daily basis. Plenty of professional musicians, singers, and even song-writers outsource their work to ghostwriters because that, as we all know is a business as well. Poetry is well and alive in this Digital Age, even as it is disseminated, dissected, and dilated for corporate slogans, logos, and production themes. It has just been commercialized with the actual workers -actual poets- taking the back burner to their own trends and talents. Everything's a business, and if a writer can still accept that their own work may never fully be appreciated, utilized, or even looked upon for what it is in their lifetime, then that writer can look at themselves as a poet with no other clarification from anyone else.
Mon, 4 Dec 2017 03:02 pm
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Doesn't 'jump ship' mean 'to abandon'? As opposed to 'jump into the melee' and join all the others.

Some excellent points, including advertising which is a HUGE subject to consider under any guise.
Wed, 6 Dec 2017 07:00 pm
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Graham of course it makes a noise- there are many lifeforms that are sensitive to sound waves.
Also you can leave a sound recorder on and take a hike and return and playback the tape.
Sat, 9 Dec 2017 03:21 am
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I recently saw in a 1929 proclamation, poetry described as "the imgination in search of the fabulous." Now there's a definition I can live with.

Sun, 24 Dec 2017 01:28 pm
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I like Tommy's response. I've always thought that 'the tree in the forest' thing was a bit of a cropper. I get the immediate point, of course, but the proffered question is so 'humanity limited', I cringe. And God knows - we're limited.

The composition of 'matter', and its potential for disassembly and subsequent reassembly, possibly in a varied form, instantly, is just mind blowing. And I don't mean organic death, which is generally accepted as truth. The world's histories are so full of the unexplainable, at least by current human understanding.

I can't bring myself to scoff. What do I know!

I know I like Steven's definition of poetry. Right on!.
Wed, 27 Dec 2017 04:33 pm
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