I wrote several months ago about being surprised that I was actually starting to learn to appreciate poetry, and even find enjoyment and relaxation in the writing of nonsense poetry. While at that point the extent of my poetry writing was throwing random words onto a page to try to free up my creativity, the beast has since grown, and poetry-writing has become a regular part of my life.
Sadly, I do not actually write with a fountain pen. I would, though, if I had one.
A great deal of the blame lies on my sweet and lively college professor, Colette Tennant, who is a poet and thus takes every opportunity to expose her students to poetry. This is poetry of all genres, from the cute, to the disturbing, to the plain, to the more difficult to chew… and through that I started to learn that poetry is considerably more than sappy lines that rhyme and follow a meter. (Of course I should have known that, since I listen to music, and that is a form of poetry itself, but never mind).
And so slowly, I started to learn that there was a lot more to poetry than I had previously believed. Still I did not write it much, for it came awkwardly, and with very little experience save for parody-writing, I still tried to hold to what I believed the rules to be. But I began intermittently attending Tennant’s poetry club on my college campus, for it is a fun, laid-back opportunity to take prompts and write what comes to mind, and through that, I began slowly to be converted to the art of poetry-writing.
The change in my mind occurred when I realized at last that poetry is not nearly as different from prose as I originally thought. And far from being some unnatural, contorted variation of prose, it is rather a freer, less rule-demanding form. While the essayist or novelist is expected to adhere to a certain grammatical structure, the poet can write however they think will best put forth their intended message, story, or idea. When I stopped trying to force my poetry to fit inside certain formulaic limitations, my eyes became opened to the wide opportunity that poetry offers. Poetry, I came to realize, is far more about Psychology than it is about a particular literary form.
What do I mean by that? I mean this: in essay-writing, for example, you typically seek to summarize, inform, compare, reflect, or persuade. There is room for exploration, yes, but an essay is typically supposed to have a certain amount of scholarship backing it, which means that your mind is not generally left with much free reign to imagine or play with ideas. In a fictional story you have much more opportunity for exploration and creation, especially as you create complex, nonexistent characters/creatures/cultures/etc. Yet even in story-writing there tends to be a certain amount of limitation. You might explore life from a character of a vastly different background from yourself, but you do not usually, for example, explore life from the perspective of an inanimate object. And if you do, there is usually a reason for it that is relevant to your story.
The ocean as pictured in a poem I wrote personifying the vast and terrible beauty known as ocean.
What poetry does that other types of writing do not, is that it allows you to explore and conceptualize absolutely anything you can imagine, without it needing to tie to any preexisting story or idea. When in a contemplative frame of mind, you can write a poem from the perspective of the mighty ocean or the lowly safety pin. When going through emotional highs and lows, you can work through the emotions either by the direct pouring of your thoughts on paper, or the less-direct but more artful exploring of small elements or imagined symbolism/correlations of your particular situation. Where it is not in the nature of an essay to be something that you write for your own benefit, a poem is much the opposite. Even when in life’s recent events I have had less time/opportunity for other pursuits, poetry is something that far from neglecting, I have embraced more and more as I realize its incredible value. Referring again to my mention of Psychology: on a bad day, writing poetry can help me mentally and psychologically, and on a good day, it can help me explore the psychology–real or imagined–of everything around me. I used to think that poetry was a completely different domain from the story writing that I am used to. But I have since learned that what poetry offers only complements a story writer’s work. Sometimes you wish to explore a topic but are in the middle of a story already. Write a poem. It is a far less stressful way to conceptualize–once you realize that poetry does not have to be hard.