I think it’s noteworthy that I was going to start this blog post with the sentence I write poetry, but I don’t know if I write poetry or if I just write poems. What is a poet, anyway? The simplest definition is a person who writes poems. Oh, okay, that does seem to include me. But does a poet have to write certain types of poems in order to be considered more of a poet than someone who makes words rhyme? Maybe I’m only a poet if I compose poems that make profound statements or paint a picture with words. And what about those “difficult” poems that only the writer seems to understand?
Perhaps my work has to move people to tears or create an emotional surge in order for me to be considered a poet. I read somewhere that a poet is a person possessing special powers of imagination or expression. That would seem to denote an innate gift of some kind. Dictionary.com says a poet is a person who has the gift of poetic thought, imagination, and creation, together with eloquence of expression. Oh, no! That sounds a bit recondite and abstruse. Not sure I fit into that definition very well.
Maybe my answer lies in the definition of poetry.
Contemporarylit.com says poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response. Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme, but this is by no means necessary. It is an ancient form that has gone through drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define. There are as many definitions of poetry as there are poets.
Wordsworth defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Emily Dickinson said, “If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry.” Dylan Thomas said, “Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.” T.S. Eliot said, “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape these things.”
Here’s the deal: The characteristic most central to the definition of poetry is its unwillingness to be defined, labeled, or nailed down. Wait, I think I’ve got it! Poetry is artistically rendering words in such a way as to evoke intense emotion or an Ah Ha! experience from the reader.
Obviously, poetry is a lot of things to a lot of people.
So how do I know if I’m truly a poet? Am I alive? Yes. Do I hear an inner voice that cries for expression in a form other than direct speech? Yes. Am I moved by the world around me? Yes. Then I am potentially a poet. So what separates poets from non-poets? Poets write, non-poets don’t. That sounds plain enough. If I really want to be a poet, the first thing I have to do is put my inspirations to the page. Poetry is the written (or verbal) expression of inner feelings and impressions. It is an art form that allows the creator to layer understanding and meaning with subtle references, or to create a specific feeling or impression that works at both the conscious and subconscious levels.
There is one very important question to ask. Why am I writing? This is the heart of the matter. There is a certain degree of satisfaction in seeing your work published, especially in hardback, but this should not be the drive. There are an untold number of poets out there who write simply because they feel the need to write. They write for the pure satisfaction of writing. I find myself compelled to write whenever I’m overrun by emotion, whether it be joy, fear, sadness, regret, empathy, or angst. Writing poetry helps me to have tangible proof of my existence. Of my struggles. I use poetry to ask questions. I also use it to provide answers. To share my experiences in order that others may learn. Of course, I also use poetry to communicate, whether it be with the whole world, with God, or with my mother.
I think the reason I love to write poetry is because I don’t have to consider what I’m trying to say, and whether or not it needs to be said. I don’t even wonder if anyone besides myself will care. Poetry, for me, is writing for the sake of writing. It helps me express my inner feelings and perceptions, and allows me to grow as a human being. We need poems (and poets) because they remind us of ourselves, of the things we didn’t know we knew, and of our inability to be anything but obsessed.
So yes, I actually am a poet.