Outside the world of sentences, organized essays, blogposts, stories, and other kinds of prosings, there’s another way of putting words together: in poetry and song.

I’ve heard poetry defined as “compressed language.” Having recently taught some epic poems — Beowulf, Paradise Lost — I cannot call that an all-inclusive definition, but it works much of the time. When you think of a “poem” or a “song,” you probably don’t think of something book-length: you think of something short — often less than a page, with lines that don’t go all the way across the page. You may think of rhyme, rhythm, stanza breaks.

Think of what it means to compress something: to make its mass fit into a smaller space. In poetry, the mass that is squeezed into small spaces is meaning.

You might think that, based on that description, poetry would be a more efficient way of communicating than prose. After all, in the physical world, and in the world of digital data, fitting more mass into less space is a mark of efficiency. But it is not so with poetry. Yes, poetry fits more meaning into fewer words, but it works through images, through metaphors. Poetry rarely just says a thing: it is indirect, allusive, open for interpretation.

In poetry, I see yet another argument for design. Language of a sort seems necessary for survival, but poetry? If any language exists for the sake of itself, poetry must. It emerges from a delight in words and images, a delight in multiplicities of meaning. It can carry an emotional punch or even make a rational point in ways often more memorable than the ways of prose. But, in so far as it relates to physical survival, I cannot see a practical purpose for it.

Poetry seems to originate from a delight in making things — not simply in making practical, efficient things, but in making beautiful, complex things. And a delight in making beautiful complex things, things that exist for themselves and not for some practical purpose, points to a Delighter.

I’ve not decided whether this week will be given to making poetry, or to talking about poetry, or to the two together. But here we are, at the start of the last full week of Word-Wonder, and we’re looking at poetry.

Word-Wonder©2013 by Stacy Nott

2 thoughts on “Poetry: Word-Wonder Day 22

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