'You explain nothing, O poet, but thanks to you all things become explicable.' (Paul Claudel, quoted in Dr. Mardy Grothe's Oxymoronica)
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many pictures is a poem worth? Though it surely can't be quantified, poetry magically conjures up images, ideas and emotions in us. The best explains nothing, but speaks directly to our intuitive right brains, triggering reactions in a way that seems almost telepathic. And poetic language is ubiquitous, not just to be found in volumes labeled as poetry.
We speak of lyrical writing, when it uses vivid imagery - poetic descriptions, that resonate strongly. For example in Fugitive Pieces, when Anne Michael's protagonist speaks 'From the corner of a small house on a small island that juts like a bone from the skin of the sea', both an image and a feeling springs immediately to mind. In Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood's description of a sister-in-law's 'whisky voice - low, deep almost, with a rough, scraped overlay to it like a cat's tongue - like velvet made of leather' gives the reader an immediate notion that she's not one of the good guys.
Some authors use verse to illustrate their stories. J. R. R. Tolkien suceeds in conveying the sense of a long journey in his cozy song, 'The Road Goes Ever On and On' from The Hobbit ... 'Roads go ever ever on / Under cloud and under star / Yet feet that wandering have gone / Turn at last to home afar.'. Leslie Barringer's poems in his superb lost fantasy Gerfalcon convey a strong sense of place, while creating empathy with the passion and loyalty of a hero who writes this rousing stanza: 'Prince, in the van of your command / Look for me, when the trumpets blare, / Sword in hand for the sounding strand / And the iron crags of windy Ger!'
Tales that are written entirely in verse can continually evoke an emotional reaction. Sharon Creech succeeds brilliantly at this in her young adult stories, Love That Dog and Heartbeat. The latter's young heroine works out many of life's problems running, 'weaving through the trees, skimming over the ground, touching down, thump-thump, thump-thump, here and there, there and here, in the soft damp grass.' And one of the best at picture book poetry, Mary Ann Hoberman, gives us You Read to Me, I'll Read to You (Very Short Fairy Tales), in which adversarial fairy tale characters exchange dialog in rhyme (and get new endings)!
I love reading poetry, but I also love lyrical writing, don't you? I wish more writers studied poetry as part of the discipline of learning their craft, to help make 'all things become explicable' to us.
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