Poetry is art expressed in a language. Words entwined, woven to perfection. Sometimes smooth like satin, flowing and shining and sometimes like thick wool heavy and warm. All that and so much more flowery stuff can be said about good poetry. But what is good poetry? All poetry that flows with unhesitant honesty, not even slightly forced, is good poetry. It might be written by a happy lad under a tree on a bright and beautiful morning or in a dingy bar with shaky hands between never-ending refills. When it comes uninhibited, it’s the real deal.
Every year the 21st of March is marked as World Poetry Day to celebrate this indispensable form of human expression. Traditionally in western society, the birth anniversary of the roman poet Virgil is celebrated as a day dedicated to poetry, but in the 30th general conference of UNESCO in 1994 this revised date was agreed upon.
Poetry is the ever-present melody in our lives, all the lucky ones were raised to the juvenile poetry of magical lullabies and if they remain lucky still, they will perhaps go down amidst the poetry of lyrical eulogies. It is vast and inclusive, this oral tradition.
In recent times slam poetry has been on the rise, it is a theatrical performance of free verse pieces. However artistic and genuine it might be, it clearly lacks in a certain aspect when compared to written poetry, it lacks in providing its audience with the freedom of interpretation. It is a story being told to a crowd, you might assess the cause and effect of it, but the subject itself does not bear much openness to interpretation. Alternatively, written poetry can achieve this in a few misplaced punctuation marks. Also, performance poetry is audience-centric though it might be an individual’s unrestrained expression and is inherently restricted by that account. Consider this famous poem by the great E E Cummings, the boys i mean are not refined. (click here for the complete poem, I insist.)
they speak whatever’s on their mind
they do whatever’s in their pants
the boys i mean are not refined
they shake the mountains when they dance.
This is the most subtle stanza in the entire poem. Now, this poem might even bring a smile to a middle-aged man remembering his wild youth but what would a person with a distressing past, someone who lived on the edge of mercy from his bullies or even a survivor make of this poem? Imagine the horror they would relive in the span of a few stanzas. Written poetry has this ability to impact in different ways. Open any page of Leaves of Grass, there will always be at least one stanza that will move you.
Poetry almost always reflects the zeitgeist and poets have forever been at the forefront of campaigns for change. Poetry will always be present to challenge the norm and to question the crowned. But the inescapable fact is that people who write in verse aren’t the best at making money with it. Regarding this complication, Don Marquis said, ‘Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.’ But Kenneth Rethrox had to put it more bluntly by saying, ‘I’ve had it with these cheap sons of bitches who claim they love poetry but never buy a book.’