I once fancied I’d become a writer of country music songs. What’s so hard about that? I was too old and not hip enough to do rock ‘n roll or pop song lyrics. That’s what I thought. In fact, around 1993 I completed my first “country music” cassette album. My wife said I spent way too much time revising them.
When I listen to that album today, I realize the songs weren’t really much good. I cringe a lot at some of the lines. But I never quite figured out why they weren’t viable. What needs to be in a song to make a song a hit?
Well, since the songs didn’t sell, I decided to go into poetry. After all, everyone knows poetry doesn’t sell anyway!
And yet, writing poetry can be exceedingly satisfying.
Perhaps it’s an admirable goal to create a body of work in your own voice and collect it in a binder. Then see how some of the better ones hold up with time. Do it for you, mostly. But, hey, show it off if it seems good enough to let out of the house.
So, today, I look at my poetry––anyone else’s poetry, too––and wonder if it meets the “rules of poetry.” I mean, what the heck is a poem, anyway?
So I read the rules for Haiku and the rules for a sonnet and fifty different poem forms. Am I a failure if my “poems” meet none of these rules? Are alliteration, internal rhymes, metaphors and similes still important, like when they were when I was in high school?
Many of today’s poems neither rhyme nor are they even intended to even make sense. The writer doesn’t seem to care if he sends a particular message, and yet the poem may stand (in the public ear) as “wonderful poetry.”
So I did some reading up on the definition of a poem and now recognize there isn’t one. Historically there were the epic poems, the narrative poems, and the lyric poems. Now, the modern poets seem to prefer non-rhyming poems. Even prose-poems, whatever those are. The modern poets laugh raucously at us rhymers, looking at us like we’re a lower form of life.
Going out on a limb here, I’d say good contemporary poem tend to have these features: relatively brief; sound well when read aloud; the subject matter and style of the narration are congruent; trigger some emotion in the reader (unrelated to murdering the author); usually attempt to make a point.
I’ve run across many poets who want all their readers to come up with their own meaning, all of which, the poem author allows, may be equally valid. Perhaps this is in keeping with the notion that all people are created equal? But it makes no sense to me. I feel writing something having no intended meaning is rather useless, but then, I’ve been wrong before.
It seems that nowadays, I may write down whatever a darn well please, and, like it or not, I may rightly call it a poem. My mind has been set at ease.