#2 What Makes It Poetry?

by Victoria Chames, ©2011, reprinted by permission from the Blog: http://MoreAboutThis.wordpress.com
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You can’t write poetry on purpose. You can write verse, but that’s not poetry. Poetry when it’s real, is a thing that happens to you like love. You can’t make it happen, and you can’t stop it from happening. When it happens to you, it’s a gift, and you can either accept it or refuse it and walk away empty.

There are “forms” of poetry, like haiku, the sonnet, the epic poem, the quatrain, etc. People have tried to tame poetry and catch it in various kinds of boxes. It is less alive though, in captivity. It likes to have room to dance naked under the moon.

Poetry isn’t always beautiful and delicate, and it doesn’t have to be about love — just about Life. Life with a capital L. Poetry can be gentle or wild. When Carl Sandburg wrote about Chicago, literary critics were first shocked and offended. His poetry wasn’t about shepherd-boys and maidens on idyllic hillsides of wildflowers. It was about the meatpacking factories and iron foundries and train yards. It was exploding with Life.

No true poet makes poetry. It’s not a talent like a skill or craft, (though that could help.) When it comes, if it comes, it comes as a sudden gift, like a fluttering rush of startled birds taking flight. You can only catch a glimpse of it, and write down what ever you can capture of it. If you’re good with words, you might hone them a bit to better catch the picture of that moment, so somebody else might see it more clearly.

Poetry should create a real image in the mind of the reader or hearer. If there is no picture, that’s not poetry. It should bleed the feeling from the heart of the writer to the heart of the reader. If you read it and you don’t feel anything different, that’s not poetry.

The main thing about poetry you can always recognize it by is this: It’s always true. It’s not made up, and it doesn’t apologize for its honesty.

Poetry should capture something, and hold it, so it can be seen again, or felt again, by more than one human being. There must be something in it that is at the same time uniquely personal, and yet deeply recognizable by another human being who does not know the poet at all, and yet knows the feeling by heart.

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