What is poetry and where is it going?

This semester, I’ve experienced a great deal of exposure to texts I never would have delved into myself. It is safe to say that my definition of poetry, and maybe even of art, has changed a great deal. Before, I knew poetry did not have to rhyme, but I was much more comfortable if it did rhyme. The ABAB rhyme scheme was something that I could examine objectively and say “this is poetry.” Now, I know poetry does not have to rhyme to be considered poetry. It does not even have to be purely words on a page. It can include images and other artifacts, or words chosen by a computer algorithm, or even purely cuts of words from other peoples’ poetry.

Although we have often stressed in this class to not worry so much about the “author’s intention” in our search for the meaning in the poetry, I think sometimes whether we should classify something as poetry or not poetry has everything to do with author’s intention. If Nox was sold in the biographies section of Barnes and Noble, we may not see it as poetry. But it is sold in the poetry section, so it is a poem. Anne Carson (or her publisher, perhaps) made that intentional decision.

Putting together all the different things we have talked about over the course of this semester, I am forced to broaden my definition of poetry as being simply an inspired written product whose purpose is to entertain and whose reality is subjective (meaning, the ‘real facts’ of the poem are subjective and cannot be argued the way the ‘real facts’ of a story or informational essay can.) What this means for the future of poetry is that it will eventually boil down to just be words. The process and authorship are no longer important, as we see in “The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed.” Though sometimes there is a specific rhythm or scheme to the process, as we see in the A-Z sections of Reality Hunger, this is not something that is present in all poems. With the progression of digital technology as a medium for expression, I think we will see more examples similar to “The Dreamlife of Letters” that incorporate visual effects to enhance the aesthetics of the word. Overall, these things will add entertainment value but may take away from a uniform process for defining poetry.

4 comments

  1. David Byas-Smith

    What if Anne Carson views Nox as more of a biography but we as a literary community classify it as poetry because of Carson’s past works. I wonder how that would say about intentionality. Is it up to the reader to determine what is or isn’t poetry or does the authors word matter. Does any of it really matter?

  2. Leah Criscolo

    I love the first paragraph, I identified with it as soon as I read it. I felt the same way about ‘standard’ poetry: it rhymes, it has structure, it is emotional, it is cryptic, etc. and I get that artists like to push limits but a lot of the stuff we read sort of felt pushed to the breaking point, like where McLuhan said media begins to “reverse upon itself” when taken too far from its roots.

  3. Harrison Saylor

    I think it’s great that you talked about intention, as it’s something we really have dismissed in the class. In the Book as Machine/Book as Physical Object I remember a line that talked about the importance of intention. And maybe intention’s the bridge between examining something as digital or not-digital.

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