Striving for Poetry
By Silas Byrne
There are days when it seems as though anyone who is capable of gripping a pen and scratching on paper considers himself a poet. There are as many ways to express creativity as there are creative individuals. However, poetry requires just as much craft as any other type of successful writing or musical composition or painting. It is the marriage and melding of art and craft.
Poetry relies on rhythm for its inner musicality. The original rhythm comes from the beating of a living heart, the cycle in which we live. This is mirrored by the rhythm of day following night following day, the days turning into moon cycles, the moon cycles turning into seasons, the Earth cycling around the sun, and so on. The smaller rhythms of our own bodies are a microcosm of the universe.
Since we are universal microcosms, one would think that writing poetry would be as natural as, well, a heart beat.
However, being human, we have a history of fighting the natural environment. Take a look at how we’ve raped the planet to reap our own pleasures. We stand to lose the polar ice caps and the polar bears due to personal atrophy, corporate greed, and governmental blindness.
The same disdain for planetary life is often shown in poetry. Someone scribbles a string of words on a napkin scrap and reads them at an open mike. Yes, it’s a wonderful snapshot of the moment of creation. But it is not yet a poem.
A poem, even a freestyle poem, beats to its innate rhythm. It will beat to its nature whether the words cloaking it work with it or against it. When you read a poem and it doesn’t hit properly, the words fight the rhythm. If they are carefully chosen to do so, the way John Cage uses deliberate dissonance in his music, it works. If it’s simply sloppy, it does not.
While the initial burst of inspiration may be a lovely valentine to raw creation, a poem that stands the test of time, and remains on the lips an din the minds of multitudes, each word must be mulled over, wrestled with, until it is the perfectly shining, perfectly precise word to convey the image as clearly with as few words as possible. One of the beauties of poetry is its ability to communicate massive amounts of information, emotion, and evoke visual as well as spiritual responses with a minimum amount of words. A maximum amount of words turns it into a novel.
The next time you write what you believe is a poem, work with each word individually to build the whole. Let your body and the physical rhythm of your heart, not merely the emotional level of your heart, guide you. Find the words that support the poem’s natural rhythm. Strip it back to make every word count for what would be twenty pages in a novel.
Look at those sparse squiggles on the page. When you can sing them, when they reside easily in the memory, you know you’ve achieved . . .a poem.
Silas Byrne is a writer, poet, teacher, and environmentalist living in the Northeast.