What is poetry? I got asked this the other day by someone who was curious about my writing and what made me choose to write poetry. The latter question is easy, I didn’t choose to, it just happened. It seemed to be the way that felt most natural for me to express what I needed to express. Just like what makes a painter paint or a singer sing; poetry was just my way into that deeper realm of expression.
When you find your calling you know. It fits you like a perfectly tailored suit. It sits so well with you that you work at it for hours, days, weeks and years and it is never a burden to you. It’s a joy. But that first question, what is poetry? That is not as simple to answer.
The following is the definition you will find on Wikipedia:
“Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.”
It isn’t incorrect, I am not saying that, it’s merely incomplete.
Poetry is ancient. Old as the breeze. It existed long before mankind came into being. Before we chose a word and a definition to please. Poetry is the way the universe expresses itself, how it interacts with itself. It is creation itself. Stars, planets, trees, birds, clouds, mountains, snowflakes, the list is endless. You, yourself are poetry. For without your awareness to perceive poetry, how could poetry be? All is poetry to the eyes and ears and most importantly, to the heart. For this is its true home, the deep wells of the heart.
We are loving beings underneath the wars we rage; underneath the superficial skin we wear. We are all interwoven into this poetry of life. We all express it. All of us. Whether we define ourselves as poets or not. For we are the dancers of dance and the dreamers of dreams. We sing the songs of the stars both consciously and subconsciously. There are no divides between our notes, no divisions between our creeds.
We build our poetry like palaces and we either destroy them in the end or we make them beautiful, building them up into a symphony; letting the Angels and the Devils find their middle grounds, to shake hands and sign their peace treaties. And should we choose the destructive path, we can even find poetry in the rubble and the ruins; in the bones and the broken hearts of lost loves, and shattered dreams. For even in the cracks of the pavement flowers grow.
Yet we don’t have to be Tennyson, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Heaney or Hughes to find our place in this rich tapestry of creation. We merely must be ourselves, brave enough to write our deepest thoughts and feelings, live with an open heart and love fearlessly.
To me poetry is a way of life, not just writing in lines of rhyme and metre with symbolic images and metaphors. The writing of it sustains me, nurtures my soul. My hope in sharing this vision, is that it might sustain and nurture another, and in time nurture the whole.
Poetry is all of the definitions you might read in Internet searches, but more, so much more. Merely in its very indefinable endless existence it creates itself.
In times of happiness and in times of tragedy, we turn to it to explain our deepest emotions; why we are here and where we are going. But I believe poetry to be much more than just a cathartic thing. It is a spiritual expression of the soul, and when another feels the poem, connects with it, it reenforces the spirit itself. It perpetuates its very being.
Poetry should be transformative. It should find those deep unspoken places within a person and turn them inside out; define the very essence of what it is to Be. You could say it is impossible to fully define poetry, yet it defines us. The best poetry does that. If I can write a handful of poems that achieve this, then I will have done my job well.
Phillip Mellor 9th March 2015