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A Perennial Question: What is Poetry?

27/10/2012

Tonight, one of my children asked me what poetry is. I answered poorly, talking vaguely about lines. (Well, how do you explain it to a five-year-old?!) But it got me thinking again about that imponderable. Does the difference between prose and poetry, perhaps, boil down to this: in poetry, the focus is on the relationships between words, between sounds; in prose, the focus is on the relationship between words and their meanings?

Answers, disagreements and repudiations on a postcard (or, for the social media era, in a comment/tweet/Facebook post).

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 28/10/2012 00:34

    Hi Andrew, I was a journalist and found that it is often illegal to tell it like it is. I write prose and find the need to entertain and beguile my reader often gets in the way of telling it like it is. Only in poetry can I find a way to say how it is for me, fully, with no hedging.

    I can do this in meaning and also in sound, the one supporting the other in the best poems. I don’t know if my experience is shared, or if it’s meaningful more generally. But I think that poetry offers us a chance to share the more and less unique ways we each understand, or process, the world. It’s the closest we can get to seeing things through each others’ eyes.

    • Andrew Philip permalink*
      28/10/2012 13:14

      That’s a really interesting thought, Cathy. And, yes, it makes sense. I think it ties in with what I was thinking. I wasn’t saying that meaning is ignored in poetry. It is, of course, an essential part of the mix, but there’s much more of a focus on the words and sounds as artefacts. Does that makes sense?

      • 28/10/2012 13:35

        Yes I think absolutely it does to me (fwtw – I’ve only been writing poetry for a couple of years). And also ‘words as artefacts’ comes into the playful aspect of poetry. Perhaps that’s something to do with how we project our personalities as part of saying how it is for us. I’ve always enjoyed rolling words around my mouth🙂. I recently wrote a poem to go with a film about clouds and that was all sound but – interestingly to me – the finished product could bear meaning. Fascinating to think about all this.

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