Friday, April 30, 2010

808.1 - 808.81 or 811 - 811.54 or 821 - 821.9108

Just in case you missed it April was National Poetry Month. If you were to look at the bookcase in my living room, the headboard in my bedroom and in assorted other spots around my home you would find a number of books that contain collections of poetry. I, like most people I know, am particular about the poetry I read. Luckily poetry is one of the largest tents in all of literature. Almost everyone can fine something that someone has called poetry to read and enjoy. The poets I read tend to be either dead for a really long time or relatively recently demised. Maybe I tend to equate being dead with being a good poet. I hope not, because that is a rather tough criterion to meet.

Many people believe that all poetry is meant to be experienced only in an audio format. You need to actually hear the sounds of the poem in order to completely appreciate it. I’m not sure that is true for every poem ever written; although this is certainly true of many types of poems. Every culture has a tradition of an oral history. Maybe that is why we feel the need to speak and hear poetry. For millenniums humans have gathered together to tell and retell stories. All kinds of stories that attempted to shed light on ideas or things they had seen or heard and yet could not explain. They were trying to connect with each other using only the medium of sounds that told a story and explained an intangible concept. With written words the audio experience is not always necessary. I feel that when you silently read a poem you are removing the author and choosing to perceive the poem in a way that is relevant to only you. When silently reading written poetry we use only words, or the concepts behind those words, as that sole medium. With exceptional poems the sounds are not necessary. You’ve whittled the medium to the bone.

One of my favorite types of poetry is the Haiku. You can get lots of information about haikus at the SLFL or on the web. Almost everyone has at one time or another written a haiku. Whether they wanted to or not. It was one of those dreadful tasks in either fourth or fifth grade English class. Let me share with you something I discovered a few years ago about writing haikus: while it is relatively easy to confine your writing to the formula for a haiku (first line contains five syllables, second line contains seven syllables and the third line again contains five syllables). It is another thing altogether to do it well. You need to weave the physical lines (combination of words) and the concepts behind the lines together in some meaningful way. It helps if you make the reader part of the process. By that I mean you give the reader just enough so that they are the ones making the connections, doing the weaving within their own mind. Really good haikus do this with the selected words that reveal the concepts behind those words and leave the internal visual rendering to be done by the reader. Not an easy task to achieve. The subject matter is also of some consequence to attain the connection. Fortunately for me many Haiku poets use nature as the inspiration for their work.

In honor of National Poetry Month I am going to share with you a haiku I wrote a number of years ago:

A full moon rises
Over mist draped cedars
Blanketed by night

See you at the Library,

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