Short Thought on Poetry
The work of any writer, as Stephen King tells us in On Writing, is telepathy. It’s transmitting the world as seen through the mind of one man into the mind of another across time and space. Think about it: when we read Shakespeare, Dickens, or Chesterton, we are seeing through their eyes by the magic which their words breath into our psyche.
Yet here, he speaks mainly of novelists.
What of poets?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge gives the following “homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose–words in their best order; poetry–the best words in their best order.” True enough, if seen through the correct lens: the work of a novelist is to convey entire worlds and characters across an unlimited expanse of paper; the poet is forced to choose those fragments which are most vital, most potent, and pack them together into a rhythmic flow.
Plato argues the work of any artist stems from divine inspiration. I’m inclined to agree; why else are only some gifted with such skill at wordcraft as Tolkein, Frost, or Dickinson? (Keeping in mind, please, that I DO NOT AND WILL NEVER equate myself with these poets; I’m only in the class of capable or good poets, at best; being a great is only an aspiration) Sometimes, though, the inspiration doesn’t hit right away, at least not for me; it’s planted somewhere in my consciousness, as if He planted the seeds in my head when I was born, and when I catch a glimpse of a bud I have to tear through the weeds that have grown with it until it is uncovered.
My favorite way to do this is simply wordplay, sticking words together that have a nice poetic weight, finding something that strikes me, even if it makes no logical sense in my head. My notebooks are filled with strange and wonderful fragments, like “surly rumble”, “the crust of the earth between your fingernails”, “tourmaline ellipse”, and the like. I think the strangest one I ever wrote was “leopardine breath of rubies”; who knows what it means, but it just hangs sweet and heavy in your mouth as you think it, like the meaning is just slightly leaking out of the shell.
Then there’s giving it the proper care, helping it grow. Mulling over words, fitting it to different forms, trying to draw out the meaning–
It hits like a nuclear bomb.
And you just keep writing, forcing your brain to speak in rhyme and rhythm as the fever of writing pulses back and forth between your fingers and your brain until both shake too violently to continue or the poem stands before you, complete.
Yeah. I love being a poet. Not much else to say.