I thought I’d attempt to answer my own question, before unleashing it on a classroom full of young folks. As ever, the dictionary is one of my best friends, and I think it’s come through this time (I do this a lot; I look up words because I don’t want to take for granted that I know what they mean):
Definition of POETRY2: writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm
3a : something likened to poetry especially in beauty of expression b : poetic quality or aspect <the poetry of dance>
Have another look see at definition #2. I like this; to me it screams “Let the Poem be the Poem!” It calls into question a couple of things: (1) Prose masquerading itself as poem (narratives that happened to have line breaks). (2) Compositions that hurl abstraction and jargon at us; even when rhythmically arranged, abstraction does not bring us any closer to understanding, and jargon can make us feel stupid.
I know, someone out there is going to tell me I’m being prescriptive, or a fascist, or an elitist because I demand much from the poem. To clarify: I believe in cathartic journaling, free writing, remixing, eavesdropping, transcribing, translating, thieving, experimenting to get to locating the story and the speaker, as we are finding new or more effective ways of saying things (or efficient ways, in which use of language, form, and page do double duty).
One thing we discussed in my SFSU PACE/PAWA workshop was regarding political poems. If they are calls to action performed in accessible public spaces to the people (or The People), then the message must be clear. The images must be clear (the detailed and clear picture of the God-created ghettos and slums which Piñero gives us in “The Book of Genesis According to St. Miguelito”). The form, the use of poetic devices (for example, anaphora in Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary”) must do its own heavy lifting in forwarding the narrative, and in eliciting that emotional response from The People.
It’s true; poems must accomplish a lot in limited space.
This is why we come to Poetry in our sacred spaces, rites of passage, and times of need.
This is what I’ll be talking about later this evening. Come out if you can, and join the conversation. I’d love to include you.