Do You ‘Get’ Poetry?

Poetry month is ending soon, and though I’ve been surrounded by poets and poetry, tweeted a few poems, gone to readings, have poet friends, have published poems, I still don’t ‘get’ poetry.

If you asked me to tell you what it is, I’d be stuck. To be honest, I’d probably quickly look up the word in Wikipedia, and say “form, rhyme, meter, blah-blah-blah” with no real conviction. (Full disclosure: I have an M.F.A. in Writing. I should know what a poem is. Right?)

Yes I’ve written poems, both poorly and adequately, but with no knowledge about how to achieve the result I want.

 At last night’s reading at the University Club, I was struck by how the poetry didn’t really seem like poetry to me. Don’t get me wrong, the pieces were memorable, beautiful, thoughtful, and vivid. I was transfixed.

 I’m still thinking about Sheila Packa’s “The River Falls”, particularly these lines:

….the river never climbs backward in time nor reverses, does not re-live its beginnings or middle…it weeps for what it has known but rushes forward, rejecting nothing….

The flowing lines resonated with me (I’m a Riverbaby after all) and, beyond that, Packa’s vision of the river — moving along smartly to its particular destiny, carrying its past without remorse, falling headlong into its future with no fear — seems a fitting metaphor one might adopt as a way of life. At times, there’s nothing you can do but keep moving.  

So yes, while I am told this is poetry, I find it no different than what I might read in an essay (the kind of essay I like to read), a great piece of prose, a wonderful novel. The highest praise I can think of is to call a novel poetic.

Maybe I have an unrealistic ‘expectation’ of poetry, though honestly I could not articulate what that expectation is. Perhaps I have an obsolete definition of POETRY in mind that doesn’t really apply to contemporary poetry.

 Why bother with labels anyway, why not just go with the flow? Think I’ll do just that.