May 24, 2012

The Artistry of Brevity: Poetic Succinctness

by Debbie Harris

The brief burst of beauty from a flower, the budding splendor of a dogwood tree draped in the majesty of spring, the seemingly overnight transformation of God’s creation going from fall, winter, spring, summer. All are but a brief, succinct glimpse of the poetic brilliance of our Creator. Yet in reality the creation of God and all His people go through a long time process of transformation which in due time brings out the glory of the long awaited blooms of redeemed beauty.

So in poetry there are bursts of brilliant creative genius in such poets as James Weldon Johnson’s The Creation when he uses the succinct repetitive line of “And God saw that it was good.”

Countee Cullen’s twelve line poem, Incident, reminds us that truly we are created in the image of God, the creator of the universe, and everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. The last line of his poem that came from the agony of his heart, “I saw the whole of Baltimore from May until December [but] of all the things that happened there that's all that I remember!" This is a powerful and brilliant example of capturing a life changing devastating incident of prejudice into twelve lines.

Some of the greatest examples of brevity in poetry is found in the hymns of the Christian faith. Here are but a few: Amazing Grace by John Newton, Have You Any Room For Jesus by Daniel Whittle, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee by Henry Van Dyke, Crown Him With Many Crowns by Matthew Bridges, & Godfrey Thring. All were poets who took the great doctrines of faith and made it come alive through the artistry of poetic brevity. Emily Dickinson’s poems are often times brief paintings of poetic succinctness. Her poem, I'm Nobody, Who Are You, is a humorous, jaunty, and whimsical look into the concept of self importance. This poem is only eight lines and one of her most famous.

There is great beauty in succinctness of thought and word. It is oftentimes found in art, music, and poetry, and in the Bible. It is located in the Psalms and in many of the poetic books of the Bible. The brevity, brilliance, and barometer of the love of God for the world is found in Psalms 23 and in so many of the Psalms as David chronicles his life journey with God through poetic verse. Psalms 23 is only six verses. Six brilliant succinct divine poetic gemstones used to comfort those going through a difficult time. 

So how does the poet achieve poetic succinctness, artistic brevity in their work? Here are some suggestions:

-Study poetic forms that utilize brevity.
-Study cadence, rhythm, rhyme, word choice and poetic imagery.
-Research poets you like that are masters of poetic succinctness.
-Challenge yourself to write a 8-14 line poem. Be willing to write, rewrite, cut and edit.
-Realize artistic brevity takes practice, practice, practice to achieve.
-Never give up on your dream of writing poetry.

Happy poetry writing. Have fun experimenting with the artistry of brevity and succinctness.

Debbie Harris holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Education, a Master of Performance Studies degree from Bob Jones University, and a Masters of Science degree from Texas A & M University at Commerce with a double emphasis in School Counseling and Community Counseling. She has also served as Assistant Professor of Speech & Drama at Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary (now Cornerstone University) and as Adjunct Professor of Drama at Dallas Baptist University. 

She is currently a School Counselor and has been a volunteer Chaplain at Parkland Hospital. Her passion is to further the Kingdom of Jesus Christ through Christian Poetry. She is the author of  a poetry series, Which Church Am I? which is listed on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christian Bookstore Distributors. She is currently working on her next book, 365 Christ Centered Contemplative Poems


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