Recently I read the remarkable and astute essay, The Poet, by Ralph Waldo Emerson. In this column I draw upon his wisdom to discuss what motivates us as poets. We write for purpose beyond the quest for or necessity of publication. Ours is a service described best as a philosophy of mankind. What do I mean? While we are not interpreters of life, we seek to convince ourselves and others that life has meaning.
Did you know that poets show us that within each of us dwells an artist? Within each of us there is a power, the power to engage the senses. Think about this: artists engage our eyes and emotions; sculptors engage our eyes, sense of dimensional space, and emotions; writers engage our eyes, sense of language, and imagination. Emerson stated a poet “sees and handles that which others dream of…”
A poet knows and tells. Did poetry exist before time? Was the first poem simply a word? Certainly, we know that before words there were symbols (art!). How about the compilation of thought into any form? Imagine the first poet assembling the mechanics of a villanelle or sestina. That poet struggled with how best to convey a thought.
A poet’s service is to the truth. Until we find a better “truth-sayer,” poets are likely to be the best option. No one exceeds the poet’s fidelity to his/her service. And this is sensual in that the senses are aroused.
Poets liberally use metaphor to explain often the inexplicable. We continually examine language for the metaphor to help get to the great understanding (see an earlier column). Emerson also stated that language is fossil poetry. I have coined a new word (I hope), metaphormosis: defined as the development of the perceptions of symbols or words or forms to describe life.
We love poets because they give us new thoughts (they “unlock” us). Poets free our intellect like children’s books unlock imagination. We take our “language” to paper from what we have observed in nature, heard from friends, from touching the world, and who we have loved. Then we share this.
How noble our service to poetry!
Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, is poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. In addition to publication in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), and Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017); journals: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica, she is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013), and Stones for Words (2014). Her latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, released in February 2016, was a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award.