There are two plus one primary reasons to write poetry, which is not to say three; all numbers may or may not be equal, but reasons certainly are not. There are good reasons, and less good ones for all sorts of things. I am excited myself by good reasons to write poetry, and groan when I encounter the wrong reason.
To deal with the negative first: the bad reason for writing poetry, which is really a reason to not write it, is the ego. Poetry written from and by the ego, pure and simple. This is bad because the ego cannot write poetry, and when it does it subverts it, and puts in place an ersatz product which deceives, much like a medicine or a food which actually in the long term poisons.
The ego wants to write because it perceives that poetry is status-laden and a way to the prizes that it seeks; one crucial prize being immortality – the idea that life is short but art is long, and so there is some perpetuation of its own existence through the glory of words. Quite apart from that, the immediate credibility that being a poet bestows on anyone so recognised is well worth the ego’s investment of time and trouble - and self-deception. Poets are creators, makers, prophets, visionaries, men and women ahead of their time; those with a deep inisght into the nature of reality, philosophers, and those who are wise and emotionally perceptive. And so we could go on – and even in the West, this still holds true.
Poetry from the ego can be difficult to spot because of its variety, but there are three major classifications. First, there is pure doggerel: rhymed couplets of a banal variety written by someone who has never read more than six poems yet thinks they can write poetry because ‘poetry rhymes’. The ego is demonstrated in the first place in their thinking they can write at all without any knowledge or study of any kind. Their work never improves – Mcgonagall -like they continue to pour out volumes of the stuff on any occasion.
The second type does study and know poetry but is limited to versification; this can be highly skilled, very entertaining and enjoyable in itself. But it is not actually pure poetry because of its source: the ego. The ego likes constructing clever words, just as one might like doing a crossword puzzle. Occasionally, this can astonish, but it is not poetry because it does not come from poetry’s source – the Muse, the inner psyche, where order is not ordered because a deeper order is at play. And we realise it is not true poetry because we do not ‘feel’ it – it cannot stab itself into our being and become part of who we are; for the Muse arrests the reader as well as the poet.
Third, and arguably most dangerous of all, is the type of poetry that really does get mistaken for real poetry. It’s faddish – it latches on to movements and cultural groundswells – and so always appear relevant and of the moment and contemporary. Currently, it’s ‘post-modern’, post-feminist, post-name-your-ism. Often its populated by professors of literature and academics who specialise in jargon and self-reflexivity; and merely writing unstructured, self-reflexive, sardonic, obscurely allusive doodlings is enough to show one is a poet. But all these creations are non-creations, which nobody much reads now, and will not read fifty or a hundred years hence. But the delusion is strong, and so are the cultural imperatives that feed it – behind such ugly poetry (lines, actually) is a negative and cynical philosophy of life, for the ego likes nothing better than to be superior.
But to turn from this, what are the two positive reasons for writing poetry? My next blog will examine the power of poetry to heal.