(Notes on not getting hung-up on poetry.)
I’m very aware that the very word ‘poetry’ is a big turn-off for some people. I can understand that. So let’s ignore defining sets of words as poems or anything else. Let’s focus on what I’m trying to achieve instead.
Sometimes I’m keen to write brief bits of text for Unstated.
In a few syllables, a few considered words, what I’m trying to do is:
- provide perspectives that are understandable, accessible;
- offer some fresh ways to thinking about the familiar;
- suggest reasons for thinking in those fresh ways;
- leave room for – and hopefully encourage – the reader’s own input;
- remain aware that brevity is often appropriate in a busy world;
- use only as many words that can be read aloud in one breath.
Of course, it is not the case that all those elements will be relevant or applicable all the time.
What About Haiku?
The very word ‘haiku’ might seem off-puttingly unfamiliar, but it is just a type of short poem that originated in Japan.
The more I read about English language haiku in the early 21st century, the more I’m reminded of the bitter arguments that raged when Bob Dylan ‘went electric’ in the 1960s.
I won’t detain you with the differing views about music then, and nor will I attempt to summarise all the different opinions there are now about what is and isn’t haiku.
Haiku may or may not involve just seventeen syllables – opinions vary. There are a host of additional rules, similarly subject to interpretation. The same is true of any other style of poetry.*
What’s important is remembering that the requirements of haiku are just a framework.
“The vacuum created by the arrival of freedom” is a lyric that’s always stayed with me.** A framework prevents a vacuum being daunting. It’s fair to say a framework can be comforting and helpful.
Of course, freedom’s a good thing. And yes, sometimes it feels necessary or appropriate to break out of a framework. When that happens I remind myself that that’s fine. After all, what I’m trying to do is communicate. What actually matters is whether I succeed in communicating effectively to you, for you, providing whatever context, using whatever style of presentation and opting for however many syllables and words that I think work well.***
To put that another way, I like Dylan whether he’s playing electric or acoustic guitar, or piano, or just singing.
* The thirty-one syllables of ‘tanka’ poems and the thirteen syllables of ‘lune’ poems come to mind, but there are any number of frameworks for poetry. I’m also drawn to a syllabic approach – where poems are written within a fixed/constrained number of syllables per line.
** David Bowie, ‘Up The Hill Backwards’.
*** As an example: Some Splendid Isolation
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