ARCHIBALD MacLEISH WRITES in his poem, Ars Poetica, on the art of poetry, ‘A poem should be palpable and mute / As a globed fruit’.
What MacLeish is saying, poetically, is that a poem does not tell you anything, it does not whisper, speak, dictate, pontificate, order, sweet-talk, shout or make any other kind of noise – it is mute! A poem simply sits there, like a round fruit. But you, the reader, feel it – it is palpable!
I advise aspiring poet’s to find a copy of MacLeish’s poem and either study it or stare at it, because either way it’s a pleasure to behold.
We feel a poem even though it does not speak; it intrigues us or reveals something new to us.
That seems to go against the idea that a poem is like a short short-story. But what Ars Poetica also implies is that a poem, like a short story, does not lecture the reader; ‘A poem should be wordless / As the flight of birds’. Birds do not stop to tell us how it is that they fly, scientists did that! Birds just fly and we admire them.
Nor does a poem preach a sermon; ‘A poem must not mean / But be’. It’s neither one way nor another way, but the poetic way; The Tao of Poetry. A poem makes its point not pointedly but metaphorically or allegorically or using concrete imagery and aesthetically fitting diction or may provide ambiguity to spark curiosity and contemplation.
A reader’s beliefs and morals are their own and are not to be forcefully infringed upon, and poets each have their own. The poet has our attention for only a fleeting moment; the rest is in our own hearts and minds.
And a poem is not like a treatise or a legal argument; ‘A poem should be equal to: / Not true’. A poem can make a statement without justification. The poet is simply remarking, revealingly or intriguingly, but whether anyone agrees or not is not up to the poet. This is a part of the role a poet plays as the reporter of society’s conscience to our selves, to help us to come to our own realizations. Poets are beacons in the search for Beauty and Truth.
But what do we do with a ‘globed fruit’? Why we eat it of course!
So the intrigued reader should be allowed to admire and then consume this round fruit that a poet presents them with, at their own time, according to how they can best digest it.
Poetry should provide self enlightenment rather than convincing argument. It took me a while to learn that!
The departure from art and into didactic writing may be forgivable in prose stories. But in poetry it is not easily forgiven. (There is a genre of didactic poetry.)
The tendency to depart from poetic writing is strongest in prose poetry and what is sometimes called free verse.
This seems to be the most popular type of poetry for many poets. Perhaps it is because we assume that prose poetry and free verse has no ‘form’, no ‘structure’. But in fact it does have characteristics and qualifiers which are subtle, but are present none the less, to identify poetry from prose and save us from writing blank verse.
And what are these ‘rules’ of prose and free verse that may be followed? Well, if you’re interested then find out for yourself because this is only a footnote.
Below there are links to some examples of prose poetry and free verse which I believe may serve to demonstrate this genre of poetry quite readily.
Snake by DH Lawrence, http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/dhl.snake.html
And there are more here, http://www.prose-poems.com/examples.html
Michael Dom tells the story of his journey into poetry in PNG Attitude on Thursday in ‘I am Simbu. I am Mosbi mero. Read, son, read’