Poetry, it's complicated

Thursday, April 12, 2018
In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to write about the basics of poetry, but can't decide what they are! I don't feel too bad about it, though, because many writers can't agree on what makes a poem great, much less the basics. I've read positive reviews of poets I don't understand, and negative reviews of some of my favorites. Poetry is complicated. A poet's use of abstract language representing abstract ideas can make it more difficult to comprehend. And many people just don't like it.

There are more forms and formats of poetry than I can name, and more poets than I will ever read. The best ones stir emotions by compressing time and meaning into a few lines of text on a page. They work their magic through the use of form and style using imagery, alliteration, metaphors, repetition, and other literary devices. But these techniques alone can't define a piece of writing as a poem, because writers use them in other formats. Like I said, it's complicated.

So, I'm just going to tell you about one of my favorite poetry books called "Love That Dog," a novel by Newbery-Medal-Winner Sharon Creech. My daughter first introduced me to it when she read it in elementary school, and I've read it many times through the years. The 86-page narrative poem takes us on young Jack's journey of learning to write and appreciate poetry. He asks simple questions of Miss Stretchberry, his teacher, whose answers help him discover his own voice. Perhaps she can help you discover yours.

Every writer should read this book. It not only provides some basic understanding of poetry, but helps clarify and expand our ideas of what a poem (and a novel) can be. And the story is beautiful and heartbreaking, and may make you cry.

Mary Horner teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She is a certified medical writer, and earned the writing certificate from UM-St. Louis.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--I love that book, too. Right now my students are working on some poems, and one of them said, "I don't like writing poems."

A form where you don't have to worry about punctuation or capitalization? (I know. When those boundaries are removed, it sometimes makes writers uneasy.) A kind of writing where every word and all the white space matters? (Yes, that can be daunting.) A type of writing where similes shine? (Of course, crafting with various writing strategies is not always easy.)

What's not to love?

Margo Dill said...

I love that book, too. What a great recommendation!

Renee Roberson said...

Now I want to read "Love That Dog!" I've always enjoyed poetry and analyzing it but haven't done too much of it in recent years. I wrote plenty of bad poetry in my 20s. One of my favorite poets/authors has always been Edgar Allan Poe--for some reason, I have to read his work out loud to get the full benefit!

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