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Poetry Seminar - What Is Poetry?

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Michael Shepherd

Joined: 07 Dec 2007
Posts: 1395
Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Mon Jul 28, 2008 2:24 pm    Post subject: Poetry Seminar - What Is Poetry? Reply with quote

Here's a report on a Poetry Seminar arranged by John Woodward in late July in Lincoln -- in case it's useful to others contemplating something similar :

'After a lighthearted introduction (it was apparently Slow Sunday today), adding that Plato said all poets were mad, so we had nothing to worry about there, I passed round copies of Noyes’ “Daddy fell into the pond’ and we began to enjoy the fun and to get the feel of the 'being there' quality which makes all the difference. Also that we all recognized the event even though it came from a long time ago.

We then considered what it would be like to describe the event in prose and made some attempts at that. We agreed it was rather like writing a specification (there was an engineer present), ever so long and detailed and it all on the same level. The conciseness of poetry was recognized.

We took on the concise aspect by looking at some haikus. To appreciate them we learnt that you had to be wide awake, or you might not get it.

Then we did a bit of reciting aloud to the distant houses, reading Brooke’s 'Dining Room Tea' in short sections, letting go of inhibitions about how we sound to others. This led to understanding more about how to, and how not to, read poetry. (Your advice was found exactly right) [to read a poem as if you had written it yourself].

We then read it over again and discussed what we had found in the poem.
Which was a lot. Particularly the observer who was very much there and so was all that was observed. It is an uncannily truthful (ie pure) observation without any ego.

It led to a discussion as to whether only the observer was seeing this or were not the others somehow in the know as well. And what about the observers listening to the poem? In its way the effect seemed to be one of a unity of all the players.

We then talked a little about what are the qualities of a poet and a poem. Indeed what was poetry? Later we had a look a dictionary definition – “beautiful and elevated thoughts”, with which we agreed. A poem we said is any experience where the poet is awake and 'there' and also has time to see below the surface (Slow Sunday again) and not rush to conclusions. A good poem evokes memories of what has been known ( e.g. 'Daddy Fell into the Pond', the haikus and 'Dining Room Tea'. We had also looked at as section of Wordsworth’s 'Recollections', not dwelling on it –“shades of the prison house” - too much).

Then we had up Rilke’s poem with the lines “I praise”. This was an eyeopener. And it linked back with Brooke’s poem so naturally. And this introduced Shakespeare with Sonnet 18. I offered here an idea I had that was derived from Sanskrit grammar which related to the three persons or guises as LM so beautifully explained it in the red book. The universe, the all, is the first person; you, what is in front of you is the second and
stands between and joins the first and the third person which is I, the observer. It may be a heretical interpretation, but seems to accord with experience and to the substance of good poetry, ('Dining Room Tea' and Sonnet 18 for example).

They then went out of the room armed with paper and pencil and under no compulsion to achieve anything, to see (in the short time left of the morning) what poetry they could find.
They did pretty well and there were the germs of poems in what they came back with.

I think they all enjoyed it very much.'


[Brooke's and Rilke's poems can be found on the 'Much-loved poems' thread of this Forum; Noyes' poem can be accessed on the website under his name, along with some other poems by him. (Note one error in transliteration there -- 'is' for 'it')]
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Alan Edward Roberts

Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 194
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:52 am    Post subject: What Is Poetry? Reply with quote

The Saturday morning Horizons / Discovering Poetry group at Mandeville this week came up with the following in quick response to the question "What is Poetry?"

- Embodiment of emotion

- Distilled words

- The voice of the soul

- What touches the heart

- Words to express ideas that cannot be said

- That which is halfway between speech and music

Last edited by Alan Edward Roberts on Tue Dec 02, 2014 12:47 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Alan Edward Roberts

Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 194
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Tue Dec 02, 2014 11:17 am    Post subject: What Is Poetry? (2014) Reply with quote

Eight terms on ... and last Saturday morning the Discovering Poetry group provided the following two-minute reflections in response to the question ...

What is poetry ? ...

- Putting some aspect of truth into words that are harmonious, universal ...

- The affirmation of the heart and the taking leave of the will of the commentator.

- That which feeds the soul and inspires the mind to open and clear; it enables potentials to germinate, grow and blossom. It can be shared with everyone.

- First you need space; then you “unhook” from the rules of prose and the shackles of ego. Poetry is what then floats up and flows onto the page.

- A way of putting things down only a line at a time. Authoritative statements containing much.

- The essence of an experience maybe written very directly in minimal words or maybe expressed in figurative language, such as metaphor.

- The means by which Nature talks to humans; the sound of the universe, that each person may better hear their own sound ... beauty - that which we all seek. The pursuit of the truth through language.

- An expression of thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations in a rhythmical way on a particular theme.

- Good poetry synthesises in words one’s observations of the soul. It is made accessible through rhythm and rhyme.


What Is Poetry? - A question always worth the asking.
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Alan Edward Roberts

Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 194
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2015 10:36 am    Post subject: Further Reflection Reply with quote

Here is a further reflection (offered by a member of the Saturday morning Discovering Poetry group) upon the question What is Poetry? and upon responses already offered ...

Poetry is the use of ordinary words
arranged in extraordinary ways
to express the inexpressible,
explain the inexplicable,
extricate the inextricable and
make the unremarkable remarkable;
so it may untie the knots of the mind
and let it fly
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