Poetry is for the times and the situations where prose won’t stretch enough to express
experience or conviction which needs sharing. I’m not talking just about poems here. I’m
talking about poetry; of any kind. Poetry doesn’t stop with poems.
Poetry for the speaker/writer and the hearer/reader is a stepping away from our daily way
of using and hearing words, into something more elastic. It’s a bid for the spiritual. Look at
Bill Wordsworth’s Daffodils*. He “wandered lonely as a cloud”. No odd words here, except
that his words, if you take them literally, imply vapour-with- consciousness-of- agency. Um.
Nice. Wandering is not being buffeted. Wandering is not being lost. Wandering is a
surrender to absence of planned route.
So, off he goes, without destination, un-earthed. What happens as he wanders is a massive
impact of golden, moving colour, experienced in a vast with space – which he can never
forget, that engages him for the rest of his life. (If I had written instead engages him for
life, that would have been less prosaic. Poetry lives in the gaps where certainty is not assured).
The poem shares with us the unlooked-for golden-ness of a remembered moment. It is
doing what a great deal of decent poems do – sharing the lone view or vision which poets
find during absences of route. Such temporal (or penny-dropping) instants can’t be
conveyed prosaically. They unground us, wander us, and reveal.
And what is being shared in poetry, any poetry? It is anything along the spectrum between
raw feeling and accurate insight which the writer (or speaker) wants to convey, which the
prosaic, by definition, has been designed to trap in generality.
Sharing is a huge part of what all poetry attempts. Apart from the solitary and relieving
clarity which a poet feels after pulling off what was intended, sharing is the purpose.
I would even say that those people who don’t share their poetry with other people are
sharing it with aspects of themselves which do not readily meet. Teen poems which so many
of us write, and then often abandon, are revelations of self to self. Most of Gerard Manley
Hopkins’** staggering poems were discovered posthumously; they had been written to be
shared abundantly and solely with God.
But if poetic words need to be elastic, so do the ears which hear. To press too insistently
and too obsessively for what a poem means, when you have perfectly sound suspicions, is
to ignore your own insight and to mistrust your inner ear. To impose one meaning on a
poem and its hearers is bullying. More of that another day.
* https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and- poets/poems/detail/45521