Poetry and technique

While studying poetry, I found two singular facts:

1. I found most of contemporary poetry that I was studying to be poor – lacking in an important sense. Even that which was dazzling in its use of various techniques. It was, more or less, a waste of time except in terms of the negative lesson it taught (whatever that might be).

2. As suggested, there was an intense focus on poetry as changing technique – how can we experiment and create new forms by changing the techniques? Let us follow these seemingly arbitrary criteria to create a new poem about this random subject.

Yet, there was little discussion as to the root and nature of poetry – what does (did) it do? What is it supposed to do? I.e., what’s the point? To merely say that there is a point is to say something which from a certain perspective is dangerous, I suppose, because it is normative.

Thinking more about techniques, however, led me back to the reasons for those techniques. Why does poetry pulse? Why does it alliterate? Why does it invoke vivid visual, auditory, tactile, and so on, imagery? How did this come about – how was it used traditionally?

The importance of the techniques is in changing the state of the reader or listener. Alliteration, imagery that draws on the senses, and so on, all combine to put the reader in a specific sort of state where they can then experience or understand the ideas the poet has captured in his poetic writing. What kind of state? I seem to know this intuitively, but it is difficult to describe – it is a state where certain kinds of truths can be grasped. What kind of truths? Important ones. Mythical ones, perhaps.

My guess is that poetry in its purest form is a part of religion (or vice versa). I think that this is why I sensed that contemporary poetry was lacking: it has largely attempted to detach from religion (understood in a very broad sense – religious exploration as has occurred throughout human history and pre-history) – from exploring the ideas and experiences that religion is about (such as truth, beauty, virtue, and connected, sensing-of-divine, or even holy, sanctified, or mystical states), and from doing so in any coherent tradition of religious thought or symbolism.

In short, I feel like contemporary poetry, like much of the arts, is cheating people of the most important potential aspects of the craft. To the extent that art in general has done this (and often instead veered toward art for the form of art), this explains why the quality of cultural artifacts has largely declined in many spheres – the artists have detached themselves from what art is about, so of course we get poor art as a consequence.

(In reality, there is probably a large amount of high-quality art being made right now – but it is obscured due to the way that a person like myself hears about new art. Basically, the standard gate-keepers keep the really interesting art out.)

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