The Evasive Art of Poetry

Guest post by Tickner Writing Fellow Thea Brown: Maybe it’s fitting that National Poetry Month happens in April, full of rain and clinging winter, cut through by bright days of tulips and pink dogwoods. April often can’t decide what it is. Does this “cruelest month” signal transition? Is it a battle? Shifting prelude to May’s more confident colors?

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.29.38 PMPoetry is similarly evasive. We know it’s made of words, that it inspires thought and bends imagination, and that it frames the world: “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” as Marianne Moore wrote. Sometimes poems are difficult, perpetually slipping through our fingers like a stream, and sometimes they’re immersive and still, suburban swimming pools at night, surrounded by fireflies. Sometimes they’re all subtext, and sometimes they’re all sound.

I asked Gilman seniors in the creative writing class to fill in the following prompt, however they saw fit: “Poetry is _____________.” Here’s what they know:

“Poetry is the art of capturing emotion in a convoluted series of words.” –Ben Holt

“Poetry is a group of symbols arranged in such a way that allows the reader, listener, or viewer to experience a shared emotion or story with the author.” –Tory Young

“Poetry is the first snowfall at the start of winter.” –Niyi Owolabi

“Poetry is an expression of emotions.” –D’Angelo Shears

“Poetry is what brings meaning to the otherwise monotonous life each and every day.” –Michael Cheng

“Poetry is either complicatedly simple or simply complicated.” –Lawson Menefee

“Poetry is using the commonality of words to explain things are not easy to understand. Words in this way create constellations, explorations of that which is around us. Perhaps poetry may be without much obvious purpose. But it is never without the beauty of that moment that opens our minds and our hearts.” –Jackson Mills

I’m happily surprised and impressed by the responses of these smart young writers. Even as individuals with unique talents and tastes—as evidenced through their work in class and through the modes of these definitions—their descriptions work together. They point to emotional expression and complication, even a little humor, while still moving toward making connections with the reader. A tall order, to be sure, but one rooted in imagination and empathy—two core facets of poetry’s weirdo gemstone.

Ultimately, I know, establishing borders is beside the point. Art is in the making of it, not the fitting of a definition or the establishment of a canon. We write because we can and because kaleidoscoping language rearranges our brains and the world for the better. With that in mind, I’ll close with a poem from Mathias Svalina’s The Wine-Dark Sea, a book that’s been with me since the fall and that takes its name from Homer:

The lamplight
returns me:

knotted memory,
the view

from the top
of the sunrise

the city clean

by morning
like a cone.

No ideas,
in this night

perpetual, only

Note: Learn more about Thea Brown and the Tickner Writing Fellowship here.



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