Sunday, November 8, 2009

What is Poetry?

I often wonder what is it about poetry that makes it poetry. It's one of those things that comes up quite often in writing workshops, and someone will say something like these are all nice and good, but somehow these are not poems. Someone said that about Adrian Blevins' poems. Personally, I am less committed to the idea of "poetry" or "prose" or "theater" or any other medium for that matter than to this idea that there are things I have to say, and I will go for that which will let me say those things best (Am I paraphrasing Ritwik Ghatak here? Yes, I am.) But then, there is also that core-level commitment to craft, which, I think, is essential for all of us to find a way to say those things that we want to say. So far, I have felt that poetry and fiction provide two different kinds of outlets for me. Although essentially inter-related. When I am writing a short-story, I am looking for a story. The concrete outline. The tangibleness of it all. Versus, when I am writing a poem, I am looking for the abstract that underlies that same story. The visceral. The theoretical, which is not always conducive to the realist-fiction form. Now, this brings me to what I was going to say.

There is something about poetry that escapes realism. Even if we are talking about the most mundane things, the most realist of experiences. And that beyond-realism of poetry is basically constituted by the way language is used in poetry. Poetic language is essentially non-realist. So, when I am writing a poem, or reading one, I am looking for that place beyond realism. Although not devoid of its relation to reality. That's why, it doesn't matter to me if the lines are too prosaic, or conversational or straightforward. I am not someone who likes to see poems recede into stories, but then, I also want to think and see what is it about poem-stories which allows for an exploration of that which would never be possible in a short story? And for me, it is that beyond-realism place. In terms of my recent readings, I think, two poets have succeeded in doing it really really well. Thylias Moss in her verse-novel The Slave Moth and Linda Susan Jackson in her What Yellow Sounds Like. And right now, I am really trying to locate their other books. Any information on that count will be really really helpful.

Meanwhile, there are some publication good news, which I am reserving for later.