What’s in a Poem?

A few weeks ago I asked a friend of mine what her favorite season was. She told me summer, because in the lazy heat of the season she felt more secure stepping outside; to her, cold weather was like an invader chilling her to the bones. There was an apparent association between snow and fear. When asked, I’ve always said that winter is my favorite season (Christmas, snow, warm nostalgia by the fireplace, what’s not to love?), but just recently I’ve realized that I despise winter, much for the same reason my friend does. Rather, I am more in love with the concept of winter. I told my friend about this, and she said, “That’s why I don’t trust poetry. It unabashedly romanticizes everything. Though miraculously structured and made savory through choice diction… poetry is a lie.” I thought about this for a while. Do I agree? Not quite. I think that poets are experts at taking the mundane and turning it into the extraordinary. Though guilty of viewing the world through “rose-colored lenses,” I would not go as far as to say that writing is a lie.

Webster’s Dictionary defines poetry as “Writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound and rhythm.” Simply put, poetry practices digging deeper into ordinary language, essentially “painting a picture with words.” From Keats-style romance to Japanese tankas whispered on the lips of lovers to Ars Poetica, a detailed twenty-four-line poem about poetry itself, this unique style of writing manifests in colorful variety. Poets carry within us this deep, instinctive urge to convey our thoughts through words rather than pictures, in metaphors rather than concrete terms. It isn’t about applying a simple rhyme scheme and some line breaks to words — that’s not what a poem is. Sure, rhyming is used in many types of poetry, but I have surveyed dozens of non-writers from around my school, and nearly everyone defined a poem in the Shakespearean sense, which does not encompass all poetry. My personal favorite is free-verse, for example. There are no rules, no syllable counts to follow. To me, writing a poem free-verse feels like picking out words and feeling them, tasting them on your tongue, allowing them to absorb your thoughts with gentle hands and then flow from your fingertips. Or perhaps stealing the sun from the sky just for a moment so that everything goes black except for the grandiose, blinding light illuminating only your words on the paper.

Poems are spontaneous and strong-willed, often taking on a mind of their own. I typically find it hard to stay on subject when I sit down to start writing, because my brain takes an idea and runs with it, and the end product is hardly recognizable. One of my favorite things to compare, though possibly banal, is seasons with moods. Living with Bipolar II, my moods are often correlated directly with seasonal changes, so this makes sense. When I think of winter, I think of steel and ice, headaches from the brisk, unforgiving wind, morning cigarettes leaving an acrid taste in your mouth, fitful sleep, dawn coming down through violet clouds. Summer, to me, is hazy white, fading in and out of lucidity, manic bursts of my soul on fire, fainting from the heat, blurred melancholy. Spring and autumn are sisters in hand, twin souls, two maple trees with their leaves kissed to ash by lightning. In spring, snapdragons, waxflowers, climbing nightshades and baby’s-breath come to life, peek out from underneath thawing leaves to make sure it is safe to bloom. In autumn, that same life is taken away by whistling winds from the north; burnt orange and charcoal clouds.

There is an endless list of things to be said about poetry. It is the deadly calm before the storm and the falling asleep in the wreckage after it has passed. It is scribbling down racing thoughts on a torn napkin because you forgot to bring your notebook that day but couldn’t bear to let the idea float away. It is telling the truth in raw imagery; tranquil yet rageful, standing ceasefire yet waging war. My only hope is that one day I find the words to give back to poetry what it has given me, this beautiful gift of expression.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s