By Kim Triedman
It’s national poetry month, and the dogs are intoxicated. These two things are not totally unrelated, or at least not in my universe. After a too-long winter, April means I finally get to write my poetry out on the front stoop while my dogs get to hurtle and root and plow their noses into the softening earth. It’s a trade-off: I let them dig, they let me write. If we’re lucky, I’ll end up with a serviceable poem; they’ll wind up with dirty snouts and a mouthful of grubs.
It’s a win-win situation.
As both a novelist and a poet, and most recently a prose poet, I think a lot about what defines poetry and what distinguishes it from its first-cousin prose. In some sense, it matters to me very little: more and more, I find myself writing without intention – without any definable form in mind. But I also recognize that I seem to know poetry when I write it, and when I hear it, no matter how innovative or well-disguised; and I wonder at just what it is I am responding to, because poetry communicates on so many different levels that it’s often hard to unpack just what and why a poem is. So in honor of National Poetry Month, and because I need to figure some things out for myself, I’m presenting here just a few of my own impromptu thoughts on what makes a poem a poem…
The answer that occurs to me first and foremost is music. For me, writing and reading poetry is a thoroughly musical experience. Sentences and phrases announce themselves in cadence, phrasing and meter; words arrive as much for their mouth-feel as for their meanings. When I write poetry, I’m completely tuned in to the sounds and the textures of language. My internal ear determines where specifically it wants some beats emphasized over others, or when it requires a pause rather than a full stop, or whether it is more suited to a meandering or more rapid-fire pace. I need to hear the sounds in my head in order to write them, and in hearing them I hear their own particular music. It needn’t be beautiful or even appealing, but it is there. Every sentence or phrase is its own composition. Every word that fits into that composition must bring to it so many things: rhythm and repetition and rhyme (or slant rhyme), its own specific constellation of beats and stops and syllables.