Why Poetry is Like a Green Dot.
I remember clearly sitting in church several years ago, staring at the notebook eternally open in my lap, as my pastor gravely informed us that a church member was dangerously ill. I’d heard the news already and was very upset, so to distract myself, I began listing words: “Ensanguine, acoustic, lightning…” I ended up with a multi-column list of random words, words that made me feel better just to pronounce in my head, to write on paper, and to envision, one syllable at a time. That list was nothing near a poem, but now I realize that that’s what poetry is to me: getting lost in the syllables, the flow of the letter and the rhythm of words. That’s why often times poems “make no sense”; In these cases, the beauty of the words themselves was more important to the poet than conveying a perceivable meaning. And that beauty is why they’re valuable anyway. But a convoluted poem is no less valuable than a surreal or abstract painting. Just because you can’t tell what that thing on the ground below the runny clocks is doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from appreciating it.
Just like paintings, a poem can be just about anything, from the Mona Lisa to a white sheet of paper with a snobby-looking green dot in the center and a price tag that makes you question the morals of society. Since I find words therapeutic, here are several different methods of obtaining that comfort.
1.) The Free Verse Poem
There are no rules here. Make something up that comes from your heart and it’s a free verse poem. It doesn’t have to rhyme or have consistent rhythm (or any rhythm). It’s whatever you want it to be. If you are literate, you can write a free-verse poem (Okay, I’m not saying it’ll be good, I’m just saying you don’t have to count your syllables for it to qualify).
After the Sea-Ship
By: Walt Whitman
AFTER the sea-ship, after the whistling winds, After the white-gray sails taut to their spars and ropes, Below, a myriad myriad waves hastening, lifting up their necks, Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship, Waves of the ocean bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying, Waves, undulating waves, liquid, uneven, emulous waves, Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves, Where the great vessel sailing and tacking displaced the surface, Larger and smaller waves in the spread of the ocean yearnfully flowing, The wake of the sea-ship after she passes, flashing and frolicsome under the sun, A motley procession with many a fleck of foam and many fragments, Following the stately and rapid ship, in the wake following.
It’s a poem, plus a story. Well, a poem that tells a story. The poem actually has things like “characters” and “plot”. I’ve written one or two of these and enjoyed them. If you don’t know what to write about, a narrative poem may be most comfortable to compose; once you know the story you want to tell, the structure of the poem will fall more smoothly into line.
Excerpt from: The Charge Of The Light Brigade
By: Alfred Tennyson
Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. "Forward the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!" he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. Forward, the Light Brigade!" Was there a man dismay'd? Not tho' the soldier knew Some one had blunder'd. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred...
3.) The Couplet
A couplet is two rhyming lines, on their own or in a poem (which is made of this pattern repeated over and over). Shakespeare used many couplets, mostly because they are a necessary component of the Sonnet, which he was fairly fond of (That was sarcasm. He wrote so many sonnets that they literally named one style of sonnet after him, “The Shakespearean Sonnet”. He didn’t even invent it, some Italian guy did, but I guess that guy didn’t write 154 of them after the initial inspiration).
Here are some examples:
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away, As with your shadow I with these did play.
Did my heart love till now, forswear it sight,
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.
-Romeo and Juliet
The point is, poetry doesn’t have to be dry, structured, and predictable. There are many other types not even listed here (epics, haikus, limericks…). And we haven’t even scratched the surface of rhyming schemes. However you want to express yourself, there is a way to do so, whether it’s a story, a formless flow, or some simple rhyming words. Maybe your poems are dazzling Monet’s that everyone loves, or maybe they’re quirky Picasso’s or Dali’s that nobody quite understands. Maybe your poem is the green dot that’s either nonsense or pure genius, and if you understand it, maybe it doesn’t matter. Writing poetry lets people connect with your heart. It binds us together, and if that doesn’t have meaning, what does?