Poetry a medium for any message
Poetry is amongst the most treasured of our oral traditions. Hundreds of years ago, poets sat around smoky peat fires reciting tales of their ancestors to an audience of the unlettered. The rhyme schemes and other devices made memorization easier for the poet. Few works were written down. The rhythmic ululation of words entertained the audience with heroic stories of slain dragons and great deeds by those who had ccome before. It was a much treasured experience for all who heard it.
During the middle ages newspapers, as we know them, did not exist in Europe. Traveling bards would appear at the castles and guild halls, reciting epics that served as the news of the day. They also served as oral historians for the various nobles that they entertained. They were paid with bed and board. Even in those days poetry was a hard business to make a living at.
The audience wanted to be entertained. Obliging bards crafted grand epics like Beowulf to please their listeners. In later centuries sagas would serve the same purpose. Shakespeare in 17th century England detailed the foibles of his era. Kipling extolled the exploits of the Britissh Colonial Raj in India. Tennyson, with his stirring Charge of the Light Brigade, gave praise to the military exploits of Great Britain in the nineteenth century. William Blake created new lands and far away adventures with his works. The novel and the short story had yet to dawn on the collective psyche of the modern era.
With all due respect to the technical aspects of writing poetry, I think many of us are enchanted simply by the musical resonance of the rhyming and metered syllables. Like singing in the shower, we repeat favored passages in our heads, enjoying again the experience of hearing them over and over again.
The soothing sounds of assonance or the memory catchers like rhyme schemes and alliteration are clever constructions that tickle the ear and give a piece rhythm and cadence.
Onomatopoeia gives our fancy a target to focus on. “Moo,” “Baaa” and other animal sounds tug at our imagination and place the creatures vividly within the body of the work, giving it texture, life and yes, fun. They also aid in developing the most treasured aid of the poet, imagery. With an artful turn of phrase, or a skilled double entendre, a poet can evoke a smile or make a listener think of whole ranges of thoughts using his imagination.
Constructing so glib and artful a balance is not a task that comes readily to he pen. An array of technical devices aid the poet in getting his message across.
Iambic pentameter, dactyl tetrameter and other measures of line foot are a means of mechanically attempting to insert rhythm and cadence to a work. We speak naturally with a certain cadence, one that is pleasing to the ear of the listener. Trying to write that way is not so easy. The right word or construction may have to be contorted and reshaped a dozen times until it fits into that mysterious verbal melody that is soft upon our ears. To configure that illusive manner of speech, you have to first parse the lines that you have written to determine if the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables and number of their groupings fits harmoniously into the work at hand. Like a tribal drumbeat, we seek a primitive rhythm that will aid the imagery constructed to evoke a mind picture in the ears and imagination of the listener.
Our own body rhythms respond to a structured and repetitive musical beat. Walk near any dance floor and you will see people swaying to the rhythm of the structured acoustical presentation. So too with Poetry. Say things in the right cadence and your listener's will respond, mesmerized by the drum beat of your message. It is a task much sought after but difficult to achieve.
For the gifted, playing with these word combinations can be a mental exercise of great pleasure. Picture a Byron ,Keats or Sandburg painting verbal artifice on an imaginary musical score. They have to blend the imagery of the idea transmuted with the aural conveyance that delivers it, all in a rhythmic undulation of sight and sound that will tantalize and amuse the listener.
Sometimes, they create new words and sounds to express their ideas . An artful contraction of a word or maybe a rhyming nonsensical utterance might be just the right sound that fits into the verbal mosaic. Sometimes, the rules are followed, sometimes ignored. It is the end result that justifies the verbal means. If it works, everything if well and good.
You can picture some of the masters evolving motifs that are variations on their own written themes. They are experimenting with form and texture to create new mediums that will better express their thoughts. E.E.Cummings and others are the extreme in terms of form but they are by no means the first to play with a set of words and twist it to a desired end. Typography they call it. It is a visual setting of letter type so that it sets up symmetrically on a page, pleasing to the eye. Altering this format can create motion or disorder or a dozen other visuals. It is still a formatic novelty in poetry.
Playing with format gives rise to a central question of poetry. Why are you writing this stuff and what is it supposed to mean? Does your embedded imagery support the message you wish carried to the listener or are you just laying down a visual rosharch ink blot that will entice the reader to draw his/her own conclusions? Do you want your message clearly understood or are you offering the reader a acoustical treasure hunt?
In that same vein, are you writing this piece for your own enjoyment or that of others? Is public acclaim your goal or do you wish to entertain and enlighten your readers. These are pressing questions best answered before you ever write anything down.
Poetry, as an art form is of tremendous benefit to writers of all genres. Economy of expression is a wonderful by product. In poetry you condense a chapter of verse to a few lines and earn the undying appreciation of the readers. Rhythm of expression is also a plus. You read at certain speeds just as you speak. The increasing speed of the cadence can signal rising action or dramatic denouement. It works both in poetry and in prose.
Embedded symbols, the life of poetry, give texture to prose. The artful imagery sets the mood and stage for the ideas we wish to convey. They do so subtly and almost unconsciously, making the reader draw the picture for him/her self.
Lastly, poetry brings whimsy, caprice and sometimes just plain fun to writing. It conveys a range of emotions quickly and artfully so that the reader is entranced by the artful flow. Whenever we write an artful passage, we do so standing on the shoulders and imitating the forms of a long line of wordsmiths who have come before us. Originality is a forgotten imitation.