Monday, December 3, 2012

Why Write Poetry: Part 1, Intimate Address

Why write poetry? Aren't poems pretty much irrelevant in the age of Flickr, Twitter, Vimeo, and SoundCloud? (Those four could be the names of Santa’s virtual reindeer: “On Flickr, on Twitter…”.)
Who really reads poetry any more? I’m a poet, and even I rarely buy a book of poems in a bookstore and sit down and read it with no distractions. I probably spend more hours reading fiction than poetry.
But poetry still has power like no other art. It speaks directly to all the layers of the human brain, and to the heart. Poetry is the language most at home with and familiar to our bodies. I’m thinking about a great poem like Pablo Neruda’s “Barcarole”

If only you would touch my heart,
if only you were to put your mouth to my heart,
your delicate mouth, your teeth,
if you were to put your tongue like a red arrow
there where my dusty heart is beating,
if you were to blow on my heart near the sea, weeping,
it would make a dark noise, like the drowsy sound of
train wheels,
like the indecision of waters…

(translated by Robert Hass)

When I read those lines, every cell in my body fizzes with excitement. I love fiction and nonfiction, too, but neither of those can do what that poem does. Even though the images in Neruda's poem are dreamlike (the “tongue like a red arrow,” the “indecision of waters”), they are so remarkably familiar to the mind. Those images seem to travel naturally into the unconscious of the reader, by osmosis. 

                                                                    Pablo Neruda

If there is a personal or intimate thought or feeling you want to convey, poetry is the best medium. No form of address is as direct, or as passionate.
Maybe that’s part of why poetry naturally seeks metaphor, because poems are so immediate. Poems require the indirectness of metaphor to moderate and make palatable that extremely personal address, just as it would be too intense to look a person right in the eyes the entire time you are speaking with him or her. 

Other recent posts about writing topics:
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Zack's most recent book of poetry, Irreverent Litanies

How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer


  1. Thanks for explaining, Zack. Lovely. I posted on FB and tweeted!

  2. Thanks, Leslie! Next blog will be about the uses of poetry for political statement.

  3. I must say that I am pretty much like you in the sense that I love reading poems but chose to read it from the Web than buying books of it. And Edgar Allan Poe is one of my favorite authors because his poems although mostly sad are inspiring and leaves a mark on every one's heart. Up until now, I am curious who the Poe Toaster is as well. I've read some of Sir Neruda's poems though I don't consider myself as a fan.

  4. Really structured and useful information. And everything is clear, thanks. I looked through some posts and prompt essays must say, they are very interesting. Best regards, essay writer

  5. Thanks, Ivan. I appreciate the feedback. Zack