Earlier this week I read some poetry and I didn’t particularly care for it. The poet’s work is respected, but I couldn’t appreciate it. I had to admit, I wondered if I lacked the academic background to “get it.” Possibly. I’m sure there are layers of sophistication which completely escaped me. But the exercise caused me to ask myself what I do like in poetry.
I like poems which have a voice.
Of course, I think we gravitate to voices that resonate with us. They feel like they could even BE us. The words and phrasing flow so naturally, so freely. And if not our own voice, then that of a friend, either one who exists or one we wish existed. There is comfort in the voice, and perhaps familiarity.
Or, this happens too, the voice isn’t familiar, but it’s authentic. These poems jag us about sometimes, they push into unfamiliar waters. The strange voice opens us to new thoughts, maybe confrontations, certainly things we would not have intentionally sought, but having encountered them we are now affected by them.
I read a poem a bit like a child entering a candy store.
And my poetic sweet tooth craves two things in particular: imagery and word play. I feel like there’s no chocolate in the shop if the poem doesn’t contain some nice imagery. And you call yourself a candy store? Huh! I want sensory satisfaction, captivating images, sounds, odors, textures to transport me into the poem’s reality. And I want them expressed whenever possible in creative, clever, and interesting ways.
I want the words selected and arranged with care.
I believe in the magic of poetry. A poet takes what is in his heart, his soul, or his head and shares it in a way that gets our attention. It not only speaks to us but it speaks to us with its art. And its art is the crafting of the poet, who has written, and maybe rewritten thirty times, her poem, listening to it’s rhythm, switching the words around, adding and omitting, removing lines and adding images until the poet sees that there exists in their work a spark that they didn’t create, but was created none the less. It is then, as if by magic, the poem has now become something larger than the efforts of the poet. When we find this in poetry we remember it.
Easy does it.
I gravitate to poetry that is short and honest. I like a certain purity in thought, I find elegance in simplicity. I don’t doubt that longer more complex poems have their payout to those who are up to the challenge. But very seldom will I invest the necessary effort in them.
So there you have my short list of what I look for in a poem. An authentic voice that captures my attention with it’s particular mix of images, words, and construction and arrives at something special is. indeed, poetry to me.