Poetry And The Dance; My Manifesto On Poetry

Poetry And The Dance

What are we to say about the idea of Poetry? What are we to say about the essence of a poem? Would we constrain it to the realm of mere words? Of mere sounds? Would we say that all Poetry is either sense or semantic?

I dare say we wouldn’t, I dare say we shouldn’t, I dare say we can’t. Poetry, like Dance, is an entirely different entity, and a Poem, as the embodiment of Poetry, is to the Poet as the Dance is to Dance and as Dance is to the Dancer.

Poetry, and by extension the Poem and, parallel to this Dance and by extension the Dance, is something bigger. Marvin Bell once said “What we say ‘there are no words for’—that’s what poetry is for.’” But with all due respect to Mr. Bell, that is not the full case.

Dance and Poetry go beyond words. They are above the law of the physics of language, beyond, up. A poem uses words the same way as a Dance uses movement; each art has its mechanism but neither can be constrained to it. The Dance and the Poem are both inherently artistic, but they are not “art” as we would think of it. Our modern vernacular tells us “art” is something you paint, or draw, or write, then you hang it up on a wall and never come back to it. The concept of “art” as we know it would tell the Dancer that once they know the movements of the Dance, there is nothing left to achieve. Once the Poet is happy with how they have conveyed their meaning via the lines, “art” would tell us that the Poem has nothing left to reveal to the poet.

This is exactly false. A Poem is never complete, any more than the Dance is. The Poem should always leave its key on the keychain of the writer’s conscience so that if the right number of circumstances come together at once, the Poet may come back and revise it, changing the meaning for either themselves or the Poem’s sake. This is what T.S. Eliot mentioned in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” To quote him: “The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feeling, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.” This is a fundamental truth of a Poem. It is never finished. The writer may choose not to see it again for up to an extended period of time, but like the Dance, once it is created, the Poet must always be able to come back to it and enhance it.

Thus, a Poem is never complete. It must never be allowed to be only words. It must add something to existence of its topic. If a Poem is describing a waterfall, it must contain something that causes the reader to either see something physical they had not seen before or see some metaphorical meaning that they might not have ever seen or considered. In other words, the Poem should never simply describe something without adding to it or simplifying it (thus adding to it in a sense). Poetry that adds nothing is called “poor journalism,” just as one might call poor Dancing “walking.” Poetry demands better from the Poem and the Poet, and justifiably so. Poetry without added meaning is simply extra noise in a world with far too much extra noise already.

Therefore it is my belief that the following is true about Poetry, and a Poem: A) It must, above all, never be complete. It must always be capable of growing into more and B) It must never be used simply to describe and nothing more. It must always add meaning or significance to something, whether by adding new perspective or by simplifying something in a way that causes the reader to see something significant that they wouldn’t otherwise. It may be used to describe, but in doing so, it should either add significance for the reader or add some sort of otherwise valuable appreciation. It must always, absolutely always, invoke some sort of change in the reader’s, or the Poet’s, perspective about something, be it physical or abstract. This is my perspective on Poetry. I am a Poet. Even when I try not to, I cannot be otherwise. So I will love it, and learn to be great at it. It is both my greatest blessing and greatest curse.

Key Points:

  • A poem must always:
    • be artistic, but should never be considered just “art.”
    • be open to revision and/or enhancement
    • add some significance to what it describes, relates, or conveys, be that to the reader or the Poet.
  • A Poem never:
    • should be expected or asked to please everyone
    • describes something without enhancing what it describes, be that a tangible or intangible item.
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