And what’s a poem, anyway?

… It’s something that’s been a contentious topic at times for the poetry-reading group I’ve been a part of for over a decade now.  Is something someone brings to the group actually too prosy to be a poem; does it in fact not qualify, even if it might be a good work of literature, as a good poem?  I struggle, too, with the joint pressures of poetry and philosophy for my own writerly ideas: if my first question is why I seem to fill up my writing time with poems instead of philosophical arguments, the followup tends to be why poetry can’t itself be as precise as philosophy, anyway.

Maybe the question of where the boundaries of poetry lie is especially relevant in this age of free verse; I suppose Alexander Pope, e.g., could in fact get away with his essays being counted simultaneously as poetry.  And, I’ve held the contention for a while that free verse has been the most significant development in the history of poetry.  But, maybe something that unites the poetry of today with that written pre-free verse is this: poetry, by very virtue of being the original form of literature, should count as the default form of literature.  And, it’s true: I’ve sometimes asked the question, in my poetry group, of: if this isn’t poetry, what else is it?  … Poetry, unlike any other form, can represent unbound trains of thought.  (And what’s an unbound train?  A train that runs without tracks?  Well now — isn’t that a miracle!)

… I suppose I count myself as unusual in that my own poetic development somewhat mirrors that of English, in that I began writing formal poems and only later branched out into the free verse I write most of my poems in now.  But, as I’ve become more comfortable with free verse in my own writing, I’ve simultaneously lost a facility with fiction.  Fiction… ah, now there’s an uncharted continent!  The interactions between characters… isn’t that just applied improvisations of thought into action, applied poetry?  Yet: it’s always the application that seems to drag me down…!!

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