Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Business of Poetry, Part 2: Who and What is a Poet?

Here are some words that have been used to describe the poetry of poets:


There are a lot more adjectives that could be used to describe the work, but do these adjectives tell us anything about the poets, themselves? What kind of person is a poet?

In my last article, we looked at the areas in philosophy that strive to define, categorize and legitimize poetry and poetic form. All such speculation might be interesting, but philosophy has no business being involved in the business (such as there is) of poetry. This may well be an audacious statement to make, but I believe it to be true. The philosophical branches can only strive to create rigid structures and teachings, ideological cults, if you will, that attempt to hold the thing, but are not the thing itself. Poetry does not fit within neat, labeled boxes, for even if it follows form, its function is ruled and owned by the unique mind that imagines and creates it, and by every unique mind that reads and interacts with the work.

Let us take on a thought experiment. We begin with the following question:

What came first, the word or the vocalization?

This is an interesting question because history does not hold the answer for us. Our earliest iteration of written history occurred thousands, perhaps millions, of years after the time that would hold such an answer for us.

I would venture to say, within the bell jar of this thought experiment, that vocalization and word are twins of a sort, born of thought and instinct. Thought is a product of awareness. Words are vocalizations of thoughts that seek, firstly, to identify and to name, secondly, tools of memory. Remembered objects and words become the primary tools of coping and teaching.

When you can name things, you have mastery, of a sort. When you can relate one thing to another by the use of words, and can bridge such relationships to another person, you have communication. When you turn from those things you understand fairly well toward speculation of things you don’t understand at all, you begin a conversation that leads to philosophy, cosmology and/or metaphysics. When you stir together combinations of organic matter over an open fire, you have science—if you can remember the best combinations and repeat them, you have a recipe. When you can repeat the story of something that happened to you, a bad thing that might better be avoided, you have a teaching, and possibly a moral.

Back to the question we started with: What kinds of people are poets? To some extent, this is a silly question with a simple answer. Anyone who has ability with language can be a poet. Poets are musicians, philosophers, instigators, rebels, loners, peasants, rabble, home makers, theologians, soldiers, workers, kings and queens, provocateurs, “gypsies, tramps and thieves”, not to mention crazies and addicts.

Poets are prophets—they see and report on the state of reality, asking us to turn and return away from hubris towards conscious trends of action.

Poets are seers—they experience life to the fullest extent of its triumphs and failures; they are people who arise from oceans of reality to mingle in the clouds of possibility and imagination. They illustrate what might be, what could become, in the world, if certain conditions were extant.

Poets are illusionists and magicians—they show us one perspective, while drawing us to apprehend another. They conjure and transform perspective, stopping or elongating time, recovering, reflecting, reverencing and rejuvenating moments of splendor or simplicity.

Poets are alchemists—from the symbolism of all that has come before, they develop new forms, ideas and words by means of their thought experiments that result in poetry.

Do you resemble any of these remarks?

Next time: Thought, word, deed through the filter of imagination.

And don't forget, I'm saving you $200.00 in fees for a class and materials! HA!