I’m no expert when it comes to the human condition. In fact I’d argue that I’m probably not yet an expert of my own. However, I will afford myself flexible estimates and considered opinions. Because as far as I see things, there are an awful lot of poets about. Some of us call ourselves poets because we write what we consider poetry, and some of us call ourselves poets on our tax returns. But perhaps there are more besides.
I’ve always thought that the term ‘poetry’ means more than the word is generally allowed to imply. The cafés, the ineffable quirkiness, the wistful/angry/ironic/philosophical world views. Not forgetting the yearning to write and (sometimes) speak to an audience, even of one. ‘Poetry’ is functional in describing a discipline, but too restrictive, too conservative and, in spite of the great work done to widen the scope, a little too attached to form. As such, the word remains the preserve of those writing poets, self-assessed poets, and is defined by the works and performances they produce.
But in search of what makes people poets, I think we put too much weight on those pages, mouthed pieces and productions. As I sit at my desk (computer) in my office (room) I think that perhaps our perception of the whole should be more flexible. It seems to me there is more poetry and there are more poets than we tend to recognise. In fact I’d argue human nature encourages poetry and is, to a certain extent, poetry itself.
Don’t think this some fanciful whimsy, but rather an open-minded philosophy. Yet how can I convey what I mean aside from placing some intangible element in my definition of a re-purposed term? Well, maybe I have support from Anne Stevenson. The British-American poet and writer once said:
“A poem might be defined as thinking about feelings – about human feelings and frailties.”
Stevenson may well be considering the written form, but why can’t the application go further? A poem might be defined as thinking about human feelings and frailties, she says, but if poems are thoughts, what then is poetry? The process of thinking about those same things?
If so the scope for poetry becomes any thought process about human feelings and frailties, even unrecorded. And once you consider that for a while, ‘poetry’ as just another discipline, as a hobby or profession, as an inhabitant of a tundra potted with lonely oases of rhyme and verse is reversed.
Swiftly after are the rolling hills, flowering riverbanks, and forests teeming with an assortment of potential poetical lifeforms, and their subsequent creations outnumber the thoughts that are not about human feelings and frailties, themselves becoming the dried patches of land.
The suggestion I’m making is that poetry can be human thought upon human problems, and poems are the finished article in our outside of form.
But in this application, can any thought about human conversation, art, music, scientific discovery, political debate, or even national scandal be called poetry? Not the kind that is written down or published, but a poetry of thought. Poetry by our very consideration. I think it can. I do think that poetry exists in other ways than we currently accept. And poets need not have paper or pen, keyboard or screen.
About the author:
Kevin Pocock is a journalist, blogger and creative writer.