Monday, December 22, 2014
Musings of a Poet
What does it take to write good poetry? I don't know, for I'm not sure if what I write is good. I don't know how I can tell, unless I'm told by a lot of people that what I write is good, but then not many people read poetry these days, so one can never really be sure. One yardstick is to check whether I am satisfied with my poetry or not. However, since that is pretty inconclusive by itself, let's just leave the adjective out for now and just talk about poetry - good or bad. So how does one make poetry? This is not about the technicalities of writing poems or about meter. Of course, it does help if you know your elegies from your panegyrics and if you know your iambs from your trochees, but poetry is not about just rhyme and meter. Sometimes it is not about that at all. In fact these things could sometimes be constraints that you impose upon yourself, and the more you do this, the more you limit yourself from being able to express what you truly mean to say; and the first rule of poetry is to be able to truly say what you want. Thus, poetry is about speaking the truth. Every time you speak the truth or write the truth, it is poetry. By extension, poetry is also about expression - one must be able to express the truth - and here we are not talking about objective truths about the way things are - that we shall leave to the scientists. Here, we speak about the truth about what you feel - it could be about anything from a moving lobster on someone's dinner plate to a girl you meet at a bar to a beautiful countryside to a general existentialist interpretation about the way things are in this world, and as long as you are able to effectively express what you truly feel, you are on your way to making good poetry. All you need to do is to speak your heart out without restraining yourself. It is not about the form - a lot of beautiful poetry can be found in prose as well. Read some of Toni Morrison's or Marquez's work and you will see poetry running across the texts almost everywhere. So how does one distinguish between poetic and non poetic texts? How does one define a poem? I really don't know. I may not be able to define a poem, but then definitions are not what poets are best at - let's leave that to the logicians and the lexicographers maybe. What I do know though is that in poetry, the words always dance. Even when they are still, they are only acting as a pause in the general arrangement of the music. So when you see words dancing, you witness poetry, and the better the words dance, the better the poetry is. Poetry also has a certain mysteriousness about it - the words seem to be talking about something at a level more abstract than what happens everyday. One must suspend certain regularities about how things usually function and be willing to enter a different realm where we are willing to read between the lines, and also above and below and around the lines - for the meaning is not exactly in the words being laid out, but hidden thereabouts somewhere.
So how does one create this mystery? How does one make words dance? It's a lot similar to how one can make me dance - possibly the only way to make me dance - get me drunk! Get me drunk enough to shed my inhibitions and flow with the music - one with everything around; but words don't get drunk on wine, or beer. It does help a bit, but then you don't want your creativity to outlast your liver by a huge margin, and so getting drunk to become a poet is not the best idea. Words get drunk instead on inspiration, and this inspiration goes well with turbulent passions and emotions. When there is sufficient inspiration and a sufficient stirring of passions and emotions, poetry arrives and words begin to vibrate and dance. This inspiration can come from anywhere - it doesn't necessarily have to be from love or from a heartbreak; although a heartbreak can sometimes help in creating these circumstances, it may not be a great idea to go around looking for a heartbreak in order to write good poetry, for even if one does get their heart broken and then manages to write good poetry, the poetry will always be the next best thing, for I would gladly exchange all the poems that have stemmed from a heartbreak to not have my heart broken in the first place; for it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, but it is better still to be able to love and not lose at all. So this inspiration and excited passion can come from anywhere at any moment. There is no point sitting and waiting for it; it will come when it has to, and when it does come, there will be no stopping it. It may help to go and look for it forcefully, but then one might end up missing on a lot of other great things laid out for you in life in the bargain, and these things may be a lot more important than being able to write good poetry. Who has time for poetry these days anyway? And of what good is this poetry we speak about? Plato had banished it from his republic, and although several people have defended poetry, these were mostly poets themselves. I haven't come across many non-poets standing up in defense of poetry. So what use does it have anyway? Why would one even want to write poetry?
There are two reasons to write poetry - one is for the self and the other is for others. Firstly, good poetry is honest, and honesty can seldom be a bad thing. So the first job of a poet is to be true, and to also be able to express this truth well. A poet must first try and find out the truth about himself or herself - and this makes everyone a poet, as long as one isn't merely flowing along with fashion and is instead trying to think about what he or she is truly made of, made for, and about what their purpose in this life is, about the beauty that might lie in the smallest drop or in the might of an entire ocean or the universe. One must also use poetry to conquer emotions, and be able to present perspectives about incidents that others may not have thought of before. Good poetry, therefore, is about seeing things from different perspectives, and it is also about saying things in different ways, to make it appeal to more people, to make more people connect with your ideas. Once a poet is able to do this, the next step is to become a beacon for society, to point out things that are not right, to point out areas that are hidden, and to do this in the most non-moralizing way possible. Good poetry is about showing a mirror to people in the form of words that they can understand. Simplicity, therefore, is an essential ingredient of good poetry. Of course a poem can have several layers but even at the simplest level, a poem must make sense to the most casual reader. All other allusions, craftsmanship, showmanship and wordplay can be then woven into this basic framework of the poem to make it more profound, so that people with varying levels of initiation can interpret it in many ways. A key to good poetry is to connect with as many people as one can, for while a vast portion of the meaning of the poem lies in the head that it came from, an at least equally vast portion of the meaning also lies in the heads it is going to enter - in the way they interpret it, and the more the interpretations are, the more meaningful a poem gets, and the more meaning it adds to people's lives, the more purposeful it gets.
So if I were to conclude, I would say that good poetry would involve the unrestricted expression of powerful truths, both about the self and about the world, where the poet acts as a beacon that shows the truth to those who do not see it from a similar perspective, in a manner in which most people can understand; and good poetry comes only when one is inspired and when one allows emotions and passions to reach a certain level of volatility required to make us reach out for that level of existence where we can speak with a certain mysticsm by making words dance. Poetry is about making people see things from your vantage point, and the higher you let your passions elevate yourself, the higher you let inspiration take you, the more novel your vantage point will be from the rest, the greater your sense of mystery, and the better your words dance, and therefore, the better your poetry. Poetry is thus about perspective, about passion, inspiration, honesty and novelty - and good poetry must have all of these in it.