A New Metre: Scraps, Miscellany, and Ephemera

“Oh that my words . . . were printed in a book!” —Job 19:23

A Philosophy of Poetry

One man’s rant about what he thinks he’s right about

June 5, 2004

Some things I take very seriously, and some things are not worth my time. Unfortunately, the world of poetry brings these two realms dangerously close. I am quite opinionated about poetry; so, while I take poetry seriously, I am rather flippant about poetry which does not seem to take itself seriously: for such stuff I have no time.

I have, for quite some time, been working on an objective definition of poetry. Literature in general would be much easier to talk about if something other than opinion decided whether a piece of writing is or is not poetry.

The two major ways to define poetry are by its content and by its structure. Defenses of my postions are forthcoming, so let me for the moment just catagorically state (I have a tendancy to be dogmatic — but hey, we’re talking objective, logical thought here!) that if one hopes to arrive at an objective definition of poetry, content is not the way to go. There are simply too many opinions as to what constitutes “poetic” language, subject matter, and devices.

[Let me just insert one (or several) thought(s) on content. I definitely do not believe that content should be left without consideration when evaluating a poem. Au contraire, I am one of the worst sticklers for what I think is poetic content I know of. That’s just it, though. Content is all about what you think is or is not poetic.

I think that poetic content goes a long way towards determining the quality of a poem, but it is simply too subjective a measure to use to determine a catagorical variable such as “is this or is this not a poem.” Content is, as I said, a measure of the quality of a work; and thus I must grudgingly admit that a limerick is a poetic form (though I have yet to read a limerick with poetic content). Likewise, I have read pieces with superb content, which, based on their structure, could not be classed as poems — they made good, enjoyable prose, though!]

I’ll leave today with a thought I read posted on a USENET poetry group (I don’t remember which one). It was a very apt criticism of a postured “poem” whose author was of the belief that anything put on paper must be a poem if the “poet” said it was.

“Although poetry can be both beautiful and ugly, the fact that you have voiced your ugly thoughts does not make this poetry.”

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