Monday, January 19, 2009

What is poetry?

Could there be a more inane question? Maybe I don't mean "what is" poetry, but "who is"; as in: who the fuck does poetry think it is? Perhaps it's because of wikipedia's featured article yesterday, or Ron's post today, or because of the recent explosions at the harriet blog, but either way I've been thinking about it.

Is poetry a definable "what"? Is it any more than a political question? Does this make the question more or less valuable? Personally, I couldn't be less interested in arguing with someone whether or not something I make is poetry or not.

Etymologically speaking, "poetry" is even more vaguely defined than "art". An artist is, by historical definition, a master of his craft; whereas "poet" just means "one who makes". Makes what? Makes art? Makes words? Makes her way to the coffee shop? Makes excuses? Makes noise? Makes faces at children?

Divisions of art (painting, sculpture, film, animation, comics...) are usually distinctions of medium, but not poetry. Poetry can be spoken (one medium), written (another medium), printed, or uploaded. And then there's visual poetry. Stranger still is that poetry lays no claim to the media it falls into. For instance: Everything painted is a painting, everything sculpted a sculpture, and so on. However, a spoken piece of art could be a performance without being called poetry, or a play, or a speech, or storytelling. In fact, poetry doesn't dominate a single medium. Most writing is prose, not poetry. Is poetry, by definition, the interstitial space created by the arbitrary distinctions cultures make for art, the marginalia of any particular medium? Are we who are left over when the Empire's create their boundaries, the Hebrews, the Wealas, the Gypsies, the Gazans? Is this too cheezy of an idea? Maybe. It would certainly trivialize the groups I've mentioned to suggest that merely by being a poet, I align myself with them. What I acually mean is that the more I empathize with the dispossessed, with those who fall outside of government sponsored definitions and align myself with them, the more of a poet I become.

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