Initially, I took my first poetry class because I thought that poetry and prose were two completely different things, and I needed to explore my poetic side. But as the semester progressed I quickly discovered that they are imperatively inseparable. Poetry keeps prose fresh, healthy, and beautiful. I have compared some of my prose from before this semester and I already see its blandness. It is not that they are not particularly boring; they are just stunningly devoid of poetic description and language. Without this poetic element, my writings sound like a boring history teacher. It has enhanced my awareness of the necessity of beautiful language.
Without an aesthetic sense, things become routine and uninspired. Anyone who wonders why the Headwaters sculptures were placed in the courtyard of the English/Education buildings at Tech might have trouble understanding this simple premise. Some would say they “just don’t get it.” By surrounding ourselves with things that are aesthetically pleasing, we provide an environment for fresh and engaging ideas, something that is vital to a university campus. This is why our fine arts and literary departments are so critical.
Unfortunately, it seems function is more important than form in today’s society, and aesthetics often gets overlooked. One of the handiest things I learned that in first class was the boxed wine analogy. People will drink boxed wine because the function (getting tipsy) is more important than the form (enjoying the flavor). This is true for Hallmark cards, cheesy love poems, and television jingles. While some may have all the requirements to be classified as poetry, they are generally unimaginative and uninspired.
In the past few years I have devoured more books than in all the years preceding that. One author in particular, Carl Sagan, was not a poet, but the language he used and the topics he explored spoke to me on a very poetic level. After finishing most of his books, it became important to me to improve my vocabulary, even if I did not use it in everyday speech. To me, there is something aesthetically pleasing about using the precise word, regardless of how complex or rarely-used it is. Too often people use a word or phrase just cuz, when more apposite and evocative language can be found.
I am a firm believer that humor is a necessity in writing, even when the subject matter is serious. Pretension, no matter the genre of writing or the place in society, is completely overused in my opinion. I was involved in performing music for several years, and I witnessed a lot of pretension in that field. I do understand that being somewhat pretentious ensures the quality of certain things, but it still bothers me. After all, it does have to do with pretending. I believe the best way to lighten the mood of a poem is to throw a little wordplay or humorous metaphor in the middle of a strong phrase. In my poem Dog Spiel, there is a line that says, “Philosophists invent discussions,” which is essentially name-calling. So I follow it with, “with tautology, like how many angels in the eye of a needle.” I know that the actual phrase talks about angels on the head of a pin. But by not using that exact phrase, it is (intentionally) confusing and/or annoying. The idea is to lessen the chance that it might seem too presumptuous or insolent.
Aside from increased awareness of aesthetics, my musical upbringing has taught me to understand and appreciate rhythm. My first few attempts at poetry were structured around rhythm because I had not really learned much else. Unfortunately, unless you are willing to sound like you are writing a song, using pure rhythms in a poem is very distracting. The rigid sound of my earlier poems seemed too — well — like wine pumped into a box. Those poems used very little inventive language because I was too concerned with the rhythm. Looking back on them, it reminds me of what my father once told me about a rap song I played for him. He said, “Sure, it has a nice beat, and you can nod your head to it, but have you actually listened to the words?” I think that was one of the last times I ever heard a song and did not pay attention to the language being used.
Having said all that, abandoning rhythm is simply the opposite extreme. Part of what makes poetry beautiful is how it flows from the reader’s mouth, the breaks and emphases, the natural flow of spoken language as opposed to forced rhythm. One of the best things about rap music is the rapper’s ability to use language (content aside) and rhythm in an creative and engaging way. A vital part of my poetry writing process is to read my poetry to myself like a rapper. It helps me get a feel for the rhythm of the poem.
Probably the cheesiest aspect of my aesthetic taste is the Easter egg idea. This is simply a hidden message, joke or reference placed in plain site but only intended for those who get it. The reason this is might be considered cheesy is because there is a fine line between crafty and tacky. You have to make sure the audience is vast enough to include a large percentage of people, yet exclusive enough to not lose its appeal. Virtually everything I write has at least one egg in it, and sometimes the writing is one big egg. For example, I wrote a poem this semester that did not make the final cut titled Sickle and Sword. The whole poem was based on a Stephen King book, The Stand. If you have not read the book, you will probably just think this is a dark and brooding poem. But, as my girlfriend easily noticed (because she had already read the book), it was full of references. The main character representing evil in The Stand was a character that had the initials R.F. For most of the book it stood for Randall Flagg, but it he actually had many names, all of which had the same initials. My poem is told from that character’s perspective, and in it he says, “I am the Raven with Furious eyes.” If you have read the book, you understand. If you have not, it hopefully does not distract from the meaning of the poem. This is a personal message to the reader that, if successful, lets them know you have shared a similar experience with them. It is aesthetically important to me to establish some kind of link with the audience.
The connectedness of all things is an idea that I draw from often because it constantly reminds me of the universal experiences we all have. The fact that we have the ability to understand how the cosmos in interconnected is one of the greatest products of our intelligence. Language is an expression of that intelligence, and as every mundane thing, has evolved into an art form. Our words come from our brains, created from the dust of dying suns. The fact that simple hydrogen atoms have become self-aware creatures is absolutely wondrous to me. This is the ultimate connectedness: matter creates intelligence creates language creates poetry about language, intelligence, and matter. If that’s not poetic, I obviously don’t get it.