Among my peers I am given some funny looks because I often say I don’t much care for poetry. As an English major, that is like saying Allen Edgar Poe was a block of cheese. Cheddar of course. After saying something as outlandish as that, you’re just not appreciated anymore. Poetry is a fundamental part of literature. Why don’t I care for it? Is it important that I care about it?
Truth is, poetry is important, not just because its all artsy fartsy and makes good magnets for your fridge, but because of the affect it has on our language and how we view things around us. If you take a good look at our language you will find that our everyday conversation is filled with something wonderful called ‘metaphor’. You can’t get through a few sentences without using them! Just take the common phrase ‘I see what you are saying.’ Literally, you are not ‘seeing’ anything when someone is talking or explaining it to you. You are hearing it. But the metaphor is that you ‘see’ what they are saying. I’ve been reading a lot about metaphor in this book for my English 4020 class called ‘I is an Other’ by James Geary. It’s amazing how much we work off of metaphor. Metaphor helps us to understand things abstract by using concrete terms, like ‘see’. By saying you ‘see’ what they are saying, you are actually saying you understand what they are saying. The abstract term here is ‘understand’ and the concrete, physical term to help us comprehend the concept of ‘understanding’ is ‘seeing’.
….Have I lost you yet?
Anyways, back to why poetry is important. Poetry is a breeding nest for metaphors and a playing ground for the development of terms to describe the abstract. A lot of the metaphors we use today without even thinking about them at one point came from a poet or a poetic moment. They fit so well that we the people integrated them into our daily lives. If you study Etymology, you’ll find that the very birth of words comes from metaphor as well. For example, here is an excerpt from the book ‘I is an Other’ that explains the history of the metaphor of the term ‘stock’:
“In the thirteenth century, the English Exchequer needed some method of tracking payments to the Treasury The receipt had not been invented yet, but without proof of debits and credits there was no way to settle disputes. So Treasury officials came up with tally sticks, narrow strips of hazel wood that were notched to indicate various amounts of money. A notch about the width of a man’s thumb, for example, represented $100; a notch about the width of the little finger represented $20…” and so on and so forth. “After a tally stick was appropriately notched, it was a split down its length into two halves, each of which bore corresponding markings. One half of the stick, know as “the stock,” was given to the person who deposited the money with the Exchequer. Treasury officials retained the other half of the stick, know as “the foil.” Whenever the account was audited, the sundered halves of the stick were matched up again to see if they tallied. Our use of the term “stock: is derived from this practice, as is the term “teller,” or “talier,” which comes from the Latin talea and originally referred to a plant cutting or a thin piece of wood.” (James Geary 28)
Interesting, right? The word ‘stock’ is a metaphor in itself, because it was a physical term–the funky stick they used to tally–that they used to describe something new, something else, that begun as being abstract since it was unknown, but now is concrete because of the metaphor.
So, at least this is one purpose of poetry–a playground for messing around with metaphor. The reason I don’t like it, however, is probably the same as the next person: it can make no sense. Though some poems have rules, modern poetry today can be anything, to a buttload of ‘apple’ words making an apple, to a bunch of random words splashed onto a page. It can be interpreted to mean anything or nothing at all–and that bugs me. Also, I find that the general public listens to a new type of poetry in music, but many writers and English brainiacs living in higher education don’t pay much attention to the ‘general’ public and their ‘pedestrian’ poetry. This also annoys me. My goal in writing is to find a language all can understand, from young to old and from middle school to professor. Poetry frustrates that.
Prose, on the other hand, can also be a play ground for metaphor as well AND can follow easy to understand rules. Prose is what you read whenever you open up a novel or your favorite manga (mmmm, manga). Prose is a lot more flexible than poetry and can often take on poetic characteristics. There are some that say, in the face of the rising popularity of prose, poetry is beginning to wane out and die. Lovers of poetry and poetic are panicking at this, but what do you think? Should poetry live in? Will it always live on? Or is the movement to prose rather than poetry a good thing?