What Is Poetry
What is poetry?
Poetry or verse; as it is sometimes known, is defined; as "a literary work which expresses feelings, ideas and emotions, with the use of a distinctive style or rhythm".
The word Poetry comes from the Greek word Poiesis, which literally means Poetry.
The ancient Greeks developed different genres of poetry, in particular the Epic genre which was made famous by Homer's Odyssey and Iliad.
Playwright and poet William Shakespeare is called England's national poet.
There are more than 50 different forms of poetry e.gs : Verse, Rhyming, Ballad, Haiku, Limericks, Odes and Sonnets.
So how does poetry fit into today's world and does it have a place in popular culture? We shall explore this, and I will also be sharing with you some of my original poetry.
Photograph - Books on a shelf - courtesy of public-domain-image.com
I own the copyright to my original poetry.
Time for change.
Modernist poetry emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and was written until 1950. Modernist poets believed that Victorian poetry was excessive and they wished to bring poetry to the ordinary person. Their model for poetry was Chinese and Japanese poetry and Greek literature.
T.S. Eliot's book; Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, a collection of his poems about cats was the inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats. The character Grizabella in the musical Cats was taken from T.S.Eliot's unpublished drafts of the book.
Photograph - T.S. Eliot from Wikimedia Commons
T.S. Eliot composed the cat poems for his godchildren, giving himself the alias of Old Possum.
Meet the stray cat characters Growltiger, the Rum Tum Tugger, Macavity the mystery cat and Mr. Mistoffelees.
Watch an excerpt of the musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
An original poem
This poem is dedicated to anyone who has had to say goodbye to their beloved pet.
A Cat's Farewell
Now's the time to say goodnight,
for I must go to sleep.
I hope our friendship stays in your heart,
and happy thoughts you keep.
It's hard to go,
but go I must, I can linger no more.
Don't worry for me I suffer not,
I hold a key to another door.
Remember me in times gone by,
when I was young, not old.
Do not think of me with sad thoughts,
please you must be bold.
For all the years you cared for me,
and the love you gave.
I shall not forget this my friend,
good memories I've saved.
You have done all you can for me,
I have lived a life to the full.
The bad times they were few,
don't leave your thoughts to mull.
It's time to close my eyes,
and take a last look upon your face.
Maybe one day we will meet again,
another time and another place.
Image courtesy of Reusable art.com
The Modern Poet
In the late 1950's the modernist movement's popularity started to wane, the era of the Contemporary poet began.
In the 1962 the publishing company Penguin published "The New Poetry" by the British poet and novelist A. Alvarez. It featured an anthology of three British contemporary poets, the work of the poets focused on serious subjects. It featured the work of Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings and R.S. Thomas The book was printed in paperback to make it more cost effective and affordable to readers. It was a commercial success, thus creating an interest in contemporary poetry.
Another successful contemporary poet at that time, was British playwright and children's author Ted Hughes. His first successful poetry collection was Hawk In The Rain (1957). He became British Poet Laureate In 1984.
Ted Hughes was married to American poet Sylvia Plath, she was a Confessional poet, this style of poetry was associated with work published in the late 1950's - 1960's.
Confessional poetry is autobiographical and touches on the sensitive subjects of depression, alcoholism, infidelity and controversial subjects of suicide and drug abuse. Such subject were seen as shocking to the mainstream poetry critics.
The poets who's Confessional poems caused quite a stir were; Robert Lowell (Life Studies -1959), W.D. Snodgrass (Hearts Needle - 1960) Anne Sexton (To Bedlam and Part Way Back - 1962) and John Berryman (The Dream Songs -1969)
Sylvia Plath's last work of Confessional poetry was Ariel which was published posthumously in 1966; she committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30. Anne Sexton and John Berryman also ended their own lives, they both suffered from depression and alcoholism.
The influences of the Confessional poetry movement are still seen today.
Considered on of American greatest poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. Life Studies and For the Union Dead is a compilation of two of Robert Lowell's works of confessional poetry.
In Life Studies writes an account of his childhood and growing up in Boston.
For the Union Dead is about a civil war hero, and an ancestor of Lowell, Robert Gould Shaw.
This edition of Sylvia Plath final work (the 1966 version of Ariel was not published in its' original form) it is from the manuscript that Sylvia intended to be published. Sylvia's estranged husband Ted Hughes oversaw the publishing of Ariel after her death.
It also includes her hand written notes.
An Original Limerick
The Limerick was a traditional rhyming song, it originally started in the pubs of Ireland. It takes its' name from the city of Limerick in the south west of Ireland.
The Limerick eventually became a humorous poem, which follows a distinctive pattern, here is an example:
There was a young man named Bill
Who swallowed the wrong kind of pill.
He cried " I made a mistake, what tablet did I take?"
The next morning, Bill was now Jill!
Poetry for a new generation.
Marc Smith started the first Poetry Slam in 1986, it was an open mic event at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago.
The U.S. had its' first National Poetry Slam in San Francisco in 1990.
So, what is a Poetry Slam?
A Poetry Slam is a competition, poets recite original work (usually referred to as slam poetry) in front of a live audience and each performance is judged by chosen members of the audience. The performances are judged on a points scale of 1 -10.
The competitors have to follow a set of rules i.e. the performance must not exceed three minutes, no music and props or costumes are allowed. Some competitions allow strong language others do not.
Various themes, styles and cultural traditions also play a part in the Slam Poetry compositions; Dub and Reggae poetry stems from the oral traditions of recited poetry in the West Indies.
Some performances are stylised on Hip Hop, which has its' roots in Dub poetry, other performers prefer a more theatrical or natural presentation.
Poetry Slams are now performed in countries all over the world.
You can find out more about Poetry Slams here, from PSI (Poetry Slam Incorporated).
Katie Makkai is a veteran slam poet, here she defines the word Pretty.
DVD and Paperback
A guide to Slam poetry and Poetry Slam by Geof Hewitt, DVD with a paperback guide. Suitable for teachers and performers.
The guide has information about the the history, organizing, the rules, performing and scoring a Poetry Slam
Geof Hewitt is the 2004 National Poetry Slam champion for Vermont.
My Original Poetry
How a classic poem inspired Pop Culture
The Raven a poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, was written and published in 1845. It became popular soon after publication.
It is a narrative poem about a young man who has been rejected by his love Lenore and he is lamenting her loss.
Whilst alone in his room he hears a rapping on the window of his room, open opening the window a raven enters the room and sits upon a bust of Pallas, just above his room's door. The man talks to the raven, the bird only replies with the word "nevermore", this word causes the young man much distress. The poem ends with the man descending into grief and madness.
(image -The Raven Background by Paz, Edgar Allen Poe - public domain image from Wikimedia Commons)
The poem has been much reprinted and parodied in newspaper and magazines over the years. The Raven's influence can be found in films T.V and music here are a few examples :
The 1963 film The Raven by Roger Corman, is a B movie comedy horror. Starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff as rival sorcerers. The film is based on references to Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven.
A young Jack Nicholson is included in the supporting cast.
(Image By American International Pictures. (DCGeist at en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)
In the 1994 film The Crow, starring Brandon Lee. The main character Eric makes a reference to The Raven, quoting:
"Suddenly, I heard a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door."
In the recently released movie by John Cusack; The Raven. A fictional Poe tries to track down a serial killer.
In an episode of The Simpsons "Tree house of Horror" The Raven is parodied as it is read by Lisa to Maggie and Bart.
Nevermore the American Heavy Metal band from Seattle, Washington, took their name from the word repeated by the raven in the poem; "Nevermore."
Read by James Earl Jones
This YouTube video features James Earl Jones reading The Raven. Listen and enjoy.
To answer the question in the introduction; does poetry have its' place in in popular culture? Yes it does, it has changed and evolved over the centuries and is still popular today as is was in yesteryear. Even though poetry has changed the classics will never be forgot, Homer, Shakespeare and Wordsworth (to name but a few) are still read and loved worldwide.
Poetry has no boundaries, it is found in many forms and cultures, even in cultures were it is strictly forbidden. According to an article in The New York Times online magazine, women in Afghanistan risk death to write poetry, you can read more from this article here.
Why do people write poetry or even risk death to write poetry? My answer is; it is a way to express yourself that can not be done in prose i.e poetry has a way of conveying more emotion, more drama, more passion and even humor.
Here is my concise and slightly satirical look at the world of Pop Culture.
Image By Andy Warhol [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons