Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Defense of Poetry

In January, Laura Boggess posted an article at The High Calling Blogs about poetry, and picked up quite a number of comments, including one that said the writer "didn't get" poetry, even though he was often told his writing was poetic. (I follow his blog, and his writing his poetic.) I responded with a longer-than-usual comment, and for some reason it's been on my mind, possibly because of the postings I've been doing at TweetSpeak Poetry on "Why Poetry Matters."

Here's what I said. I'd be interested to hear what you think.

Children seem to understand poetry better than adults. Somewhere along the line, maybe in high school English, we guys somehow got it into our heads that, at best, poetry was for pointy-head intellectuals, or really something that just girls read. I can even remember the audible groans in my high school senior English class (all boys) when the teacher informed us that we had to memorize — and recite in front of the class — a soliloquy from Shakespeare. And recite it like we were acting it! Oh, the horror, the humiliation. It was awful. We were seared with shame, but since the alternative was an F, we all did it. (I did Hamlet’s dagger speech — and I still remember it.)

I read poetry a lot more than I used to, and now I’m occasionally writing it (or trying to). And here’s why, I think: all good writing inherently contains poetry. All good writing (and speaking, too) contains rhythm, flow, and artful and purposeful use of language. It makes you think in a different way, understand something for the first time, or deepen your understanding. The poetic elements of all good writing are, I think, the essence, often hidden or disguised, of what makes the writing good.

A good poet extracts that essence, and shapes it, translates it, describes it, reveals it.

The Bible is filled with poetry. The Psalms are the most obvious, but also consider Mary’s song to the angel, or the Sermon on the Mount which sounds like a poem. Ecclesiastes. Song of Solomon. Or the Ten Commandments, which sound like poetic thunder (granted, that could be attributable to the Cecil B. DeMille movie). And the words of Jesus on the cross, taken together, comprise the most heartfelt, tragic poem in any language, a poem of horror, rejection, death — and even love.

Sometimes, I think, maybe more than sometimes, poetry is “God language.”


nitewrit said...

Ah, somehow I loved poetry from when I was a wee lad thanks to Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. This is what and why I feel poetry is matters:

Poetry is a pleasure palace of purity and pearl,
A repository of risky phrase and repetition,
A handsome home for honest homily, and the Holy Grail
Of quests for meditative quality and soulful question,
Down ancient alleyway of metaphor and allusion,
Or avenue of allegory and alliteration.

It is freedom

To be free.

It’s this and that and me and you and who
Enjoys expression of the emotion
Within that seethes and stirs and soars our soul.


David Rupert said...

G...I think I was that guy that didnt get poetry! Or at least, I think I don't.

I'm trying. I really am. I do love the interplay and weaving of words. the slow jabs of wit and wonder that punctuate a sentence with prose. It's the verse that bogs me down.

You brought a smile to me lips anyway.

David said...

All you High Calling poetry people are waking me back up to the "beauty in the ordinary" of poetry. Just this week I wrote one at my blog and it just kind of happened and I thought, "where did that come from?" It's good to hang around this group -- it's rubbing off good stuff in me.

Kathleen Overby said...

"The essence" that's it. Your heart understands.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

Indeed, Glynn. How could one read the Bible and not feel the poetry in the prose?

While the language of the King James is too archaic for my tastes, many contemporary versions obscure the lyricism of the original languages. I appreciate the New King James for preserving the poetical quality which seems to make God's Word sing in my soul, way more often than "sometimes."

Maureen said...

Poetry writing is the act of creating. Out of words come a story. Out of a story comes a life. Out of a life lived we find meaning. From meaning we draw understanding. Out of understanding we learn who we are. When we learn who we are, we His work everywhere. He is the Ultimate Creator.

Maureen said...

That next-to-last sentence should read, When we learn who we are, we see His work everywhere.

L.L. Barkat said...

God language. I like that of course. :)

Anonymous said...

God language is poetry
the language of the Spirit
it flys
it lifts
it breathes
it lives

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am thinking more and more about this. I am so concerned with the prose and flow of the words I write, that I sometimes obsess over very small sentences or combinations of words. I am writing poetry! It's just that it is strung together as a non-fiction type of story.

My daughter had Bill Collins at come to her school to work with her class- She has been so excited by that. She bought his book and I am loving it.

Poetry is
it's way
my family,
my life -

Bonnie Gray said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I never realized it until I ran into you and the other TweetSpeak poetry crowd.

It's true about children understanding poetry better than adults. My four year old LOVES poetry and I can't even understand why?!

I makes me want to enjoy it more and more seeing it as part of the human default setting ;)

Cassandra Frear said...

I said to my husband last week, "God is a poet. He has the heart of a poet. How else can we explain the way so much of the Bible is written?"

Sherry said...

I am doing a poetry project at my blog Semicolon, and I would love for you and your readers to contribute your lists of your ten favorite classic poems. Read more about it here: