There was a fascinating thread on a writers’ site I follow. Chasing down the idea of this connection, one of the things it did expose was very different ideas on what poetry is. Several people believed that the one defining feature of poetry is to express an idea in as few, punchy, words as possible. One contributor quoted a headline which he thought was poetry:
“Headless body in topless bar”
Do you think this is poetry? It’s minimalist, certainly, and it has humour. It could be a good line in a poem – or a title for a poem – but a poem in itself? Might be interesting to try to write that poem…
The idea that poetry should be minimalist is a modern one, on the whole. Poetry on the other hand is an ancient art, intimately linked to song and memory. It’s hard to imagine that Homer, writing “The Odyssey,” or the writer of “Beowulf” were trying to keep it short – the origins lie in oral poetry and wonderful inventions of beauty and complexity in metre and form, telling a story which kept audiences gathered round the fire spellbound for hours.
But now we don’t have to rely on poems to pass on our history and values – do we? We have a vast volume of info coming at us through umpteen forms of media, and we need something brief and brilliant to captivate us and make us think.
So here is a translation of a poem by Anna Akhmatova:
He loved three things
He loved three things in life:
White peacocks, evensong,
And old maps of America.
He hated hearing a child’s strife,
Hated tea with raspberry,
And womanish hysteria.
……. I was his wife.