If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
— Emily Dickinson
Poetry is the desire path while prose is the paved road. This is what I feel when I read a lyrical verse that speaks to me, both through the words on paper and the spaces in between within which I can respond. In contrast to a story passage or a treatise built upon the structure and rules of language, poetry is shaped by the writer first with context in mind. The words then follow suit.
Another way to distinguish between the two forms would be in the technique of writing, with notable differences in tone, rhythm, and focus. Poetry goes beyond the everyday language we use when speaking or writing. These are but a few approaches to defining an intrinsically personal and dynamic form of literature.
Brief Origin Story
The word “poetry” is derived from the Greek “poiein” meaning “to make” or “to craft”.
Poetry is an art form that has existed since prehistoric times. It predates literacy, as it first manifested as oral heritage. Chants and songs in poetic notation that aid in memorization were passed on from the elders to the next generation. Many of these surviving today serve as repositories of ancient civilization, detailing religious ceremonies and cultural history. Hymns, as one of the earliest forms, demonstrate how poetry has been closely tied to our musical traditions.
From its beginnings to the present, poetry has been evolving with the times. Each era in human civilization is illustrated and condensed in the poetry of its age. The development of the different forms and styles reflects the current social milieu within which it was created. From the epics of the ancients, 14th century sonnets, satires of the 1600s, 19th century Romantic verses, the Modernist style of the 20th century, and to the present day, poetry has held up a mirror to our lives and the world we live in. Since then, it has been a dance of creation and collaboration between the poets and their readers.
The Power of Poetry
Why does poetry endure?
The answers to this question lie in the way poetry affects each of us, as this is the other primary reason for its timelessness. The other impetus for its abiding presence in our lives is the inexorable impulse of poets to express their ideas, emotions, and aspirations through the alchemy of words.
Here are the whys for poetry’s continuing influence and attraction —
Poetry takes us on a journey.
It lets us live vicariously through the experiences of our fellow humans. The thoughts and emotions of past and present individuals from all walks of life are relived through their artful writing. As we begin to read, the particular rhythmic pattern of the words lends added pleasure to the discovery of the poet’s message to us.
Poetry enhances our awareness.
It enables us to step further past our inner and outer impressions. A poem is not simply an accounting of an occurrence, idea, or emotion. Whether in meter or free verse, a poem reshapes our perceptions by engaging us to let go of the familiar, chaotic, and deadening. Our understanding expands to accommodate another’s insight. With each perspective shift, no matter how subtle, we become more conscious of another individual’s unique discernment. In turn, this heightens our self-awareness as we become attuned to how this affects us.
Poetry inspires us.
It engages our minds and our hearts in its unique ways of expression. Through its specific form -- the rhythm, variations, the chosen words -- it engages our cognitive and sense-making abilities. As an art form, it offers us the space and time to be silent and listen. It stimulates us to feel what we understand, and visualize what we know. We are taken by the poet in hand and guided to realize our deepest longings away from the numbness of life’s daily repetitions. Poetry helps us break free from our shells.
Poetry strengthens us.
As writers, it is the medium through which we acknowledge ourselves and our existence in our own terms. We are entrusted with the simplicity and complexity of language, to harness experience and distill all the concomitant sensations and emotions into writing that breathes with our humanity.
Clarity is another gift we receive as we craft. Poetry’s process requires a willingness to be open, for what needs to be expressed to be fully seen. It offers catharsis. When inner turmoil is acknowledged and utilized as creative energy for putting pen to paper, we allow ourselves to breathe, to heal. By virtue of a poem’s structure, succinctness guides us to sift through the clamor, to discover the underpinnings, and transform those into words that embody and symbolize what is essential. This transformative process requires contemplation and acceptance. Personally, I find that this is how I write best, after the calm resulting from self-examination or by harnessing the chaos of my emotions into coherent thought. Writing poetry is an expressive complement to mindful journaling and self-care.
For us women, the flow of poetry is a powerful medium to express our creative truths. We can give strength to our particular narratives by breaking away from regulated thinking and discriminatory silence. Through words that harmonize with our inner selves, we can set our passions free. Let your personal, intuitive, unique voice call you forth and see where it leads. Weave your own tapestry of words, let the ink be your thread, and your pen the needle.
Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.
- Audre Lord
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Written by Lekz Umali
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