“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
-Dead Poets Society
It’s not incredibly surprising to me how little poetry remains in our modern lives.
If you search for poetry on Google, or on any social media platform, you will find a substantial amount of really bad poetry.
Of course, that judgement call is completely subjective for the reader. But it is also objectively true, in that it can be demonstrated to be fact, in general. There is a huge contrast between the state of poetry and the state of prose.
Poetry is way behind.
Writing prose, practice makes perfect. I have written over 200,000 words in the last year, and each piece I write gets a little bit better, a little smoother, a little more in my own voice.
That is because prose is a linear progression from one idea to the next. In any linear craft or discipline, such as cooking, running, or crocheting, you can get better with consistent practice.
Poetry is molded from the raw material of insight. It is circular, fractal, random, like life. In a poem, an event can lead backward or sideways in time, and an image can be held frozen for eternity.
In modern poetry, the rules of linear progression that prose must maintain to remain prose are optional.
Practice can help with the pleasing placement of words in a poem, but only time, experience, feeling, and observation can truly create the conditions wherein insight may occur.
Only when I absolutely have to write a poem is it any good. Only when the thing is lurking inside of me like a monster, struggling to find a way out of my soul, will a poem really resonate.
I may have written only a dozen good lines in my decades of scribbling poetry that actually shine, but as I continue to practice the craft, I find insight getting closer and closer, like a lake I can feel and smell as I walk down a well-worn path in the woods.
That lake is the insight all poets are searching for. We cannot create it artificially. But we can walk toward it, one step at a time, one word at a time, and bathe in its ecstatic water when we do arrive, weary and worn, exhausted from the journey.
The universality of our shared experience as human beings is what attracts us to prose as well as poetry, but in poetry we find a medium that attempts to surpass the limitations of the linear in order to create insightful perspective out of the paradoxes and absurdities of life.
Each experience of our lives can be either poetic or prosaic, depending on our outlook, our vision of what it is to be a human.
What does it mean to live poetically?
It means not taking life at face value, understanding that deeper current are what cause us to float from one thing to the next, seemingly in chaos but always following a pattern.
There is always some sort of structure in any poem. Even no structure at all is a type of structure.
So why is there so much bad poetry? Because nobody is even looking for the lake.
The old definition of poet simply meant “one who creates.” These days we have a plethora of ways to create and instantaneously publish our creations to the universe.
So we have an overabundance of “content”. I don’t think there is any reason to label that reality good or bad, it simply is.
But what I have noticed, more than anything else about all this content, is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find those creators who are looking for the lake.
If you are looking for the lake, follow me and let’s continue this dialogue for as long as we can.