Essay – What is a Poem

Many people write poetry, or at least have at some time in their life, for various reasons and purpose.  Perhaps while journaling, a poem emerged from a thicket of weeds and grass.  Or when a significant other attacked the heart and soul, the only solace to be found was buried deep within Neruda, Rilke, and your own words.  These words probably flowed with little effort, the pen moving magically across the page.  But, what exactly is poetry, and why should we care about the technical aspects of poem and form? 

Poetry consists of two distinct parts; the poem as the message or purpose, and the vehicle or delivery mechanism known as the form.   

A poem expresses images, moments, daily activities, landscapes, soundscapes, life, and death through an assemblage of words.  A poem must read in such a way granting the audience an opportunity to grab hold of a word or image and experience it within.  

The form is the vehicle and presentation system cradling words and gluing them together.  Depending on the writer’s focus or intention the form can enhance, play an active role such as visual poetry, or simply structure words logically into stanzas.  There are many examples of forms: ballad, sonnet, haiku, rhyming, which themselves have components parts such as stanzas, meter, etc.  The form is chosen by the author, or by the poem itself.

There is a perception that the free-verse form is the default when other forms fail to deliver.  Free-verse is still a well-structured form with its own rules and intricacies.  It provides a playground of sorts to move words around the page and optionally inject punctuation, spaces, pauses, and dashes.  It should be planned and treated the same respect as any other form.

When a piece begins to lend itself to a specific form, the form should be consistent, make sense, and followed throughout the entire piece.  Of course, not all rhyming poems rhyme in every stanza, but where there is a difference it should have been planned and for a reason.  Often, too much effort is put into a rhyming scheme that overshadows the stanzas and blocks the path a poem was heading down.

Form and structure can dictate line length, placement and choice of words, and how the message is presented.   In the simplest state of mind, a poem is an experience, a life or moment changing experience.  Therefore poetry is the art and understanding of how to balance these two forces pulling at each other.  It is the equilibrium of concept and image with the structure used to convey abstract or concrete thoughts.

When the ink dries the two distinct parts of poetry will come together in a piece that is an extension of yourself, while allowing a reader to peer through the windows you have created.

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