Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Poetry, prose, story, philosophy and abstract art

Why doesn't poetry have the same status as prose?

An interesting question, the answer to which I've been researching for these past months.
I've read (part of) an interesting post in amazon discussions "Where are the poets?". (although it should have been more exactly put as: "Where is poetry?"), I've read answers to questions: "Can a poet live by poetry only?" (99.9% of answers is "NO", by the way). And, I've seen that the top books in amazon are long novels (or biographies, cook books, and the like).

So, where is poetry, and why is it in such a state?

Poetry and Prose

So, we all know that poetry is different from prose. Even though poetry can be written as prose (i.e. "prose poetry"), most of the time it uses elements not usually used in prose (like rhyme, rhythm, etc - ).

Besides the elements of writing (the 'style' of writing), prose also tends to be longer (like in novels). In fact, short stories seem to have the same fate as poetry. Therefore, it could be the case that due to the length of the novel the reader becomes more involved in the story (and the story has more entertaining value due to the time taken to read it). But, if it was length only, then epic poems would have a chance (like Iliad and Odyssey). Maybe modern poets aren't writing so many epic poems, then?

On the other hand, it could be due to the extended possibilities that prose has, like making a movie. This in fact may raise the status of the author, and since all these authors write prose, raise the status of prose. Maybe, then, poetry has to be made a movie, an understandable movie? This leads to the next section, the content of poems, or 'the story'.

Poetry and Story

Whatever the content of prose, most of the time it tells a story. Although sometimes the story itself may not be easily understandable, in the sense that it may be surreal, dreamy, philosophical, etc, again most of the times one can understand the settings, the characters, the feelings of the characters.

Poetry, on the other hand, may not always tell a story. It may be just feelings, i.e. what the author felt. It tends to be more surreal or abstract, or philosophical, etc. This does not mean it has to be non-understandable all the time. It may be more difficult, it may have several meanings, but it's not something to be taken as 'meaningless' or 'impossible' to comprehend.

Another thing I've noticed is context, or the assumption that the reader somehow knows some things. For example if you say:

"The young man was so brave
Like Ajax in the field of battle" 

OK, most know Achilles, or Hercules, but not everybody knows Ajax, or all the Greek mythology, or all the philosophers, etc. In the context of a larger novel, it may be a detail, but in the context of a much shorter poem, the 'common man' may not care. It does not help that a lot of poets are academics. Are they writing only to one-another, one may ask?

Of course, there's the opposite side. Only feeling. Simple things, like simple songs, like:

"She was beautiful
I felt in my heart
A burning feeling
Hot, hot, hot"

Combine the words as you will, but what's the new thing here? If we are to make poetry for 5 minutes of wasted time, then go better hear (most of) popular songs, at least they have music.

What I believe, therefore, is that poetry should have a balance: it must be understood, but be not very simple (superficial), it must be philosophical, in the sense of having some depth to it.

Poetry and Philosophy

Not only philosophy. Politics, sociology, psychology. Same things expressed in prose, just in a different way. Maybe it is not so easily visualized as prose can be, maybe in our fast-moving world it will be skipped in favor of something more accessible, but be still valid, still having status, a status that as this article began, I feel poetry has lost in time. Then, I don't believe that one can't be entertained by thinking, or that thinking is not entertaining.

Poetry and Abstract Art

By 'abstract art' I'm including modern poetry here. And, there's a huge difference between the visual and non-visual (writing), not in content in this case, but in the huge sums of money involved. For, just this last year in the news one has heard that abstract paintings have sold for millions. Has poetry ever sold for millions? Just one single poem? Maybe we, poets (and I'm also a painter by the way), should start making 5x5 meters canvases with poems printed on it? Maybe we would be luckier that way...

I'll be returning to my former point above: derivative works, particularly animation and film (movies). I don't believe that poetry can't be made into a movie. In fact, there are several cases of so called art films (like Kurosawa's "Dreams" - although not necessarily based on poetry, it's close , or in animation "Winter Days" - based on the poetry of Japanese poet Basho).

Poetry, therefore, has to be more accessible to the general public, without losing touch with 'high' art (i.e. having depth and not being simply superficial).


It goes in a circle. If something is highly visible, highly regarded, it tends to be highly regarded by other people, and they recommend it to others, and so on. I don't know what will cause poetry to (re)gain its rightful status, but I sure believe there are ways. Time will show. Tastes change. Great art will eventually be recognized.