Friday, October 9, 2009

What is Poetry

When asked What is poetry? Ana Elsner got very animated and replied at length.

"There is no definitive answer to 'What is Poetry'. To me it is a purely academic question and a very tedious and irritating one.

A thousand scholars have tried to approximate an answer and fell short. Much like accountants they engage in counting verse, lines and syllables, assessing structure to fit the technical spreadsheet, much like mathematicians they configure pattern and meter into quatrains, pentameters, hexameter and other formulaic schemes, and yet don't even come close to what lies at the core of poetry.

By devising categories of form, rhyme, prosody, genre and style, and then sorting poems accordingly to fit into pre-defined pigeonholes they do injustice to the ground-breaking, multifaceted and dynamic aspect of poetry. Classification is artificial and is a petty academic exercise, one that will be eschewed by those of us who appreciate the raw and organic flow of each individual poet's unique voice. Unlike other literary genres, poetry cannot and should not be approached in a sterile scholarly fashion. By nature it defies clinical analysis, and "thank god" for that.

Academics have done their busy best to build a suffocating mausoleum around the living and ever mutating organism that is poetry. Let’s stop them dead in their tracks before they add more layers of insulation.

Whereas the history of poetry throughout the ages is certainly describable, the essence of poetry is not.

A lot of clever people have felt compelled to say a lot of clever things about poetry or about individual poems, appointing themselves authorities on poetic merit. But that is beside the point. The point being, that poems cannot be evaluated, they must be taken in. At best you can render a personal opinion, and that is fine, but any claim to authoritative judgment is sheer hubris.

Poetry does not address itself to the intellect alone, rather it targets the heart and soul. You might as well try to answer the question 'What is soul?', an equally pointless undertaking.

If and when you read or hear a poem that speaks to you, then you will know what poetry is, what it is to YOU. When you come across a poem that leaves you cold, that poem is no less poetry than is the one you intuitively respond to.

Poetry is not 'this' or 'that', 'iambic' or 'assonant', 'lyric' or 'dramatic', 'right' or 'wrong'. Poetry just is. It exists in the realm of the personal, of the subjective, of the sensual, of the evocative, of the experimental, of the intangible, of the magical.

It is my belief, and strictly my own, that in order to get a grasp on poetry, a certain emotional self-confidence is required. By that I mean, if you are ready to look under the rug and treat with the feelings that you have swept there, then you are ready to give yourself over to poetry.

As my own poetry gains in popularity, I get invited to perform my poems at many different public venues. In general, those people who attend my readings are already equipped with a willingness to set aside all reason, to open themselves up to the irrational and embark on a magical journey that leads to points unknown. Not infrequently I do attract newcomers to poetry. I consider it my responsibility as a poet to unchain them from all preconceptions and empower them to boldly jump into the open waters of unpredictability as my poems carry them along,"
Ana Elsner

For amplification and illustration: Click to read POETRY, Ana Elsner's signature poem



Webcaster said...

A somewhat harsh but clearly understandable position. Formal classes can be stultifying to creative outpouring and trailblazing. Many artists and writers find themselves well outside the established norms. This is especially true for writers of poems.

I particularly appreciate Elsner's phrase "the living and ever mutating organism that is poetry". To me it describes perfectly the attributes of the genre as unfettered by the strictures of classification.

Thank you, Poetry Journal, for presenting Ana Elsner's lucid and passionate point-of-view.


Anonymous said...

'It is my belive...' - this paragraph feels to right, so true to me.