Poetic Possibility

I love the possibility in poetry.

Poetry can do so many different things.

It’s hard to imagine becoming stifled in poems because there is so much room. There are so many variants of form, voice, and purpose that you can always shift and turn and roll over into a more comfortable position when original states of rest become moribund.

The types of poem written could change from day to day, decade to decade–I keep thinking that I could go through a major shift when I hit a mid-life crisis mode, and that would be all good because poetry doesn’t expect me to stay the same. I could end up writing lyrical graphic novels, for all I care.

I love that potential for change.

Always the more beautiful answer who asks the more beautiful question

e.e. cummings

It reminds me (from the time when I studied the work as a quasi-serious undergrad) that George Seferis said about Constantine Cavafy’s poetry: that although he struggled for years in obscurity, at one particular point, during a specific year, “something extraordinary happens.” Suddenly, Cavafy, who’d been stuffed up in his stuffy life, basically unwilling to express or share it while Mother was alive, became open and available to the world through a voice and style that was peculiar and new.

He changed and his poems changed with him.

That can happen in any life, in any art.

A poem can lay out thick syllables of assonance or consonance, it can click and clank consonants together, it can slurp or sulk speech, it can get princeton mathematic or community college radical. A poem can kill it or wish it well. A poem can be what it damn well pleases.

Like painting, which has gone from predictable pastoral images and portraits of bridegroom princes to square swatches of color theory and perplexing quanta-combinations, poetry has developed from patron-centric profusions into masses of possible outlooks and insights that are less concerned with how money makers will understand them and more involved in qualities of expression connecting the poet with the here with the now and the people in the here and now.

We used to use poems to remember culturally significant events or ideas only, but now we look for how toe-jam effectively expresses the cosmic bond holding together solar systems and galaxies. Now we look at repeated achtung and think about the word’s post-war significance. Now we call for social justice. Now our ballads include our own & everybody else’s.

A poem can be many things. It can also be just one thing.

Whatever it is you want a poem to be, what you choose it to be is what is most beautiful about it.


* The Seferis quote is found with Daniel Mendelsohn’s translation of Cavafy’s poems. Anyone know where the original is?

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