When I hear the word “poetry,” it conjures up certain verbal images, thoughts of content that includes rhymes and words like “love” and “heather.” So I was surprised at what passed for poetry in the candidate list. Some things that struck me as ordinary fiction were marked as poetry by critics, while content with rhyme and meter would show up in the play and fiction groups. Not yet being very well-read, I found it all so confusing. But as I scanned portions of candidate poetry, I realized that the method of presentation might be the key.
- If several people recite it for hours in public, it’s a play.
- If one person recites it for days, it’s epic fiction.
- If one person recites it to himself, or in a coffee shop, it’s poetry.
Some poems are huge. On the Nature of Things, a philosophical ode by Lucretius, encompasses six books, while Firdausi’s Shah Nameh, a Persian poem written over a thousand years ago, lasts for 60,000 lines. These poets can talk.
A few poets couldn’t seem to make up their minds about their genre. David Jones wrote In Parenthesis, a poem about World War I. Although it contains an abundance of lyric content, it’s broken up with standard prose sections. Robert Browning was both a poet and a playwright, and his poetry shows evidence of his dual abilities.
Fortunately, a few of the 43 poetry candidates look like ordinary poems, with ragged right margins and angst. Narrowing the list down to just one selection probably won’t be too difficult. I just hope I can find a good coffee shop to read it in.
[Image Credits: bart.gov]