Blogger: Etta Wilson
Location: Books & Such Nashville Office
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Some sources claim that poetry is the oldest form of literature. Reading the Psalms and the Iliad or the Odyssey suggests that may be true. (Wish I could do that in Hebrew and Greek!) Communicating in poetic forms seems to originate all over the world, no matter the location or ethnicity.
We can see this in our own country in the peculiar rhythms and chants the slaves brought from Africa. Poet Langston Hughes refined those characteristics in such poems as “Dreams” in which African rhythms and dialect are so vivid. Other poets followed his lead such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou and Ashley Bryan, who has just received the Laura Ingalls Wilder award. Rappers have put their poems to music with much of the same beat.
Thinking about poetry in other countries, the names of many British poets come to mind (Byron, Shelley, Keats, Kipling, Eliot), and their influence lives on in the British Isles, even among the dour Scots. A friend in Glasgow has just sent me a copy of the 30-page magazine describing their Aye Write! book festival held in March. The headline attraction was a special presentation by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and four other poets were on the nine-day program plus a poets open mike session.
The Internet includes references to poems by South American authors (Pablo Neruda), Spanish (Federico Garcia Lorca), French (Victor Hugo) Italian (Dante), Russian (Alexander Pushkin), German (Rainer Maria Rilke), and Japanese. I wonder how poetic writing presents itself in these foreign tongues?
Do writers in these languages relay more on symbolic meaning than on word pattern and rhythm? How much meaning and beauty is lost in translation? Maybe poetry is simply language used in a special way that appeals strongly to the imagination–no matter what language is used.
What do you think makes a poem?
Latayne C Scott
I think it was absolute genius of the Holy Spirit to inspire Hebrew poetry to be written not with rhyme or even rhythm that would be lost when translated, but in a structure of parallel thoughts — making it truly pan-temporal and pan-cultural.
Good thought, Latayne, although I feel some of the Psalms have an obvious rhythm.I noticed this in a recent reading of Ps. 148. Great words even in translation.
I have struggled to find a definition for poetry to share with elementary students. My favorite one so far is this–a poem sounds good no matter who reads it (in other words, it doesn’t just sound good when the writer reads it) and leaves you with a feeling. That’s pretty simplistic, but it works for me, and seems to work for the kids I work with too.
Latayne C Scott
I agree, Etta — and that’s a tribute to the translators. Probably why the King James Bible is regarded as such a great book of literature — not just the themes and message, but the incredible artistry of the translation. What translation were you reading?
Anybody feel that way about other translations? As poetry? I think Linda’s definition of poetry definitely fits.
I was reading NIV which does a good job of presenting poetry in stanzas, as do several others.
Linda, some modern masters and teachers of poetry think poetry is defined by the fact that it is composed in specific lines of thought whether they be open-ended, rhymed or whatever. I need to examine that a little more.
It’s perhaps not much of a definition but I think poetry is the ultimate economy of language because it relies on so much more than just the words it is composed of. By wrapping ideas in rhythm, alliteration, imagery, idioms, and the other tool of language, the ideas grow beyond the intellect to touch the heart and the imagination. Of course, some sentences are sheer poetry but even a poem’s visual appearance strikes its own cord. My favorite poets are Shakespeare, David, and Shel Silverstein. But top of the list for me is Thomas Gray:
“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me…”
You said, “Maybe poetry is simply language used in a special way that appeals strongly to the imagination–no matter what language is used.”
I agree. To me poetry is evocative language. It requires an emotional response of some kind from us–regardless of the physical appearance or lineage or adherence to rules.
I write children’s picture books. I’ve come to the conclusion that the thing that makes picture books stand out is that they are poetic–lyric, musical and evocative. They require some kind of emotional response from the readers.
Grace and Peace,
A UK based Writers’ Group, Slingink, has invited me to be a judge of their poetry competition, so I made out a list of ten points on what I consider make up a good poem. If you care to see these 10 points please click on this link and then on my name: http://slingink.com/slingink-competitions/the-slingink-prize-2010/ I would also be happy if anyone has any feed back for me on these points.