Good Poetry Is Art That Speaks

Remember Plutarch, the Greek historian? I remember reading about him the first time in high school. Plutarch said:

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.

Writing poetry, whether haiku, senryu, or some other form, is creating art, if it’s done well. A poem is a painting–one that evokes images in our minds, if it’s written effectively. Unfortunately, we read many “poems” online that have no literary value. In fact, people simply label them poems, when they are nothing more than conversation or jargon about trite experiences. They elicit a “so what” reaction from us. Poems posted are often off the cuff ramblings that aren’t even revised for clarity. I guess this happens because some teachers erroneously tell their students that anything is poetry. I had one such teacher when I was growing up.

 

Any type of writing is practice, just like carpentry. I don’t believe people are born writers. However, you need to read a lot in a certain genre to develop your writing skills and work at revising what you write. I am not being critical. In fact, I am also heartened to see so many people post their poetry  online each day who are truly making an effort to improve their skills. This is admirable.

 

Those who want to write poetry well should strive to make their poems “paintings” that evoke images and cause readers to feel some sort of emotion. When I go to a gallery or museum to look at art, I can’t possibly understand the full impact of a piece in the short time that I stand in front of it. I don’t have the luxury of spending hours looking at one piece. I appreciate the painting considering whether I have an emotional reaction to it pretty quickly. If it doesn’t grab me, I move on to the next piece.

 

Similarly, when you post a poem online or submit it to a print journal, ask yourself what image(s) will readers discover in your poem that they will react to. What emotion(s) will they feel? After all, if you’ve bothered to post a poem online or sent it off for printing, you are not doing this just for yourself. Rather, you want to give readers something to appreciate–images and ideas. And, that’s what editors look for.

 

If readers don’t have a reaction to your poem on the first reading, they probably won’t read it a second time. They’ll likely move on to another poem, just like someone in a gallery who moves on to the next painting. Therefore, give your readers food for thought, worded in an artful way with literary technique, providing them with incentive to stop, reflect, and reread. If you make them smile, laugh, feel sad or grab their attention with an interesting thought, you’ve written an effective piece.

 

In my blog,  I include instructional pieces on writing poems, too. I hope you will read and enjoy them.

 

Keep writing!

 

Copyright 2016 by Charlotte Digregorio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Charlotte Digregorio

I publish books. I have marketed and/or published 55 titles. These books are sold in 46 countries to bookstores, libraries, universities, professional organizations, government agencies, and book clubs. I am also the author of five non-fiction books: Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All; Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Homes; You Can Be A Columnist; Beginners' Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features; and Your Original Personal Ad. The first four books have been adopted as supplemental texts at universities throughout the U.S., Canada, India, Pakistan, and Catalonia. They are sold in 43 countries, and are displayed in major metropolitan cultural centers. These books have been reviewed, recommended, and praised by hundreds of critics, librarians, and professors worldwide. I am also the author of a poetry collection: "Shadows of Seasons: Selected Haiku and Senryu." Two of my books have been Featured Selections of Writer's Digest Book Club. I am regularly interviewed by major print, radio, and television organizations throughout the U.S. I have signed books at libraries, chain bookstores, and university bookstores. I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. I have won thirty-three poetry awards. I have been nominated and listed in "The International Authors and Writers Who's Who" in Cambridge, England and in the "Who's Who In Writers, Editors & Poets U.S./Canada." I am an internationally-published haiku, senryu, tanka, kyoka, haibun, free verse, acrostic, cinquain, etheree, and sestina poet. My poetry has been translated into six languages, and I have done poetry readings at a variety of bookstores, libraries, art centers, cafes, tea houses, and galleries. My poetry has been displayed at supermarkets, art galleries, libraries, apparel and wine shops, banks, botanic gardens, restaurants, and on public transit. I've been interviewed on cable television about my poetry. I also hosted my own radio program, "Poetry Beat," on public broadcasting. My poetry has been featured on several library web sites including those of Shreve Memorial Library in Louisiana and Cornell University's Mann Library. My background includes positions as a feature editor and columnist at daily newspapers and as a magazine editor. I have been a public relations director for a non-profit organization. I was also self-employed as a communications/public relations/marketing consultant with 111 clients in 16 states. In other professional areas, I have been on university faculties, teaching French, Italian, and Writing. I regularly give special lectures and workshops on publishing, journalism, publicity, poetry, and creativity to business and professional groups, and to those at writer's conferences, universities, literary festivals, non-profit organizations, and to libraries. I have been a writer-in-residence at universities. There have been about 400 articles written about me in the media. I have served on the Boards of writers and publishers organizations. My positions have included Board Secretary of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers. I served for five years as Midwest Regional Coordinator of The Haiku Society of America. Currently, I am Second Vice President of the Haiku Society.
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21 Responses to Good Poetry Is Art That Speaks

  1. Susan Furst says:

    Hey Charlotte,
    Very good piece and just what I have been struggling with in a poetry class I am taking. Although study of theory or poets or technique is somewhat important we can get bogged down. This approach tends to kill creativity. And yes a poem must have something to say, to provoke thought or shared experience. Not always easy to do, but practice makes close to perfect. I also get frustrated with “meh” poems and even more so with elitist poetry that one needs a doctorate to understand. Although I have written my share of bland haiku, I get very frustrated with some of what I read. I realize this is trite, but to put my thoughts in a haiku:

    modern haiku
    And ?

    Susan

    • Good points, Susan. A lot of “elitist” poetry doesn’t speak to us, and is not always well written besides. It is good to have some knowledge of literary technique. That doesn’t mean one has to take a class, but taking workshops given by good, longtime poets involves instruction in technique. Those are helpful. Yes, theory tends to bog us down, I agree. I always tell people to read the poets they enjoy, accessible ones like Robert Frost.

  2. excellent insight and observation. okay, yes I agree.

    you bring up an issue I struggle with—I’m not particularly qualified to judge, however over time you pick up values you appreciate and look for/through as you read haiku. as you point out; anything can be given a label in the online world of today. this does not make the thing the label it is given or maybe good examples of the label it is given. yes I’m delighted to see so many people writing what they label haiku. yet frequently it’s their idea of haiku, which may miss the mark widely. three lines of poetry make it haiku for instance, or three lines of conversation, or a sentence broken into three lines, or any three lines, to mention a few. how can I be supportive and encouraging to a haiku writer when their approach to haiku is so far off? I don’t want to be teachery. yet people often believe they know, what haiku is. to some extent the more I learn about haiku the less sure I am that I know what haiku is. so how do you encourage, yet guide writers toward a more relevant understanding of haiku, without crushing the excitement they enjoy in writing (their) haiku?

    • Yes, some poems labeled haiku are so far removed from what haiku is, that it’s obvious the writer didn’t bother to inform herself/himself of what haiku really is. The only way to be sure if one is writing it somewhat decently is for them to read haiku journals online or in print with published haiku, before posting things labeled as haiku. When it comes down to it, I have no problem with people writing what they feel like writing. That is not the issue. But, to label something incorrectly as a certain form that it is not, is amateurish. More importantly, it works against what some of us are doing to try to instruct the public on what haiku is. I guess it comes down to pride and trying to do one’s best. Read, read, read published haiku. That’s the best advice I can give anyone.

    • haikutec says:

      Of course I cannot tell which haiku fail the mark for many readers, just that my experience over 25 years has shown me that many people have very different viewpoints on haiku.

      I feel fortunate that I can appreciate multiple styles and approaches to haiku, and regularly read modern and contemporary Japanese haiku translated into English. I feel that too often people just read a few hokku (not to be confused with haiku) in varying qualities of translation into English, and alas do not venture past Basho enough, perhaps only occasionally reading in translation Issa, Chiyo-ni, and Buson.

      Interestingly Tohta Kaneko, a major Japanese haiku poet for over 75 years, and constantly evolving his work, is both modern, but also influenced by Issa, and also contemporary at the same time: NHK TV of Japan made a program about his impact on my work.

      I made myself wait a whole 5 years before I would lead a single haiku workshop, spending many hours every day, and reading around 250,000 haikai verses at least during that time. And even now I still read a lot!:-) I’m also an Editor-Emeritus 2000-2005 regarding the Red Moon Press award-winning anthologies, and perhaps one of a few that subscribed to every single haiku magazine around the world, reading an incredible array of stylistic approaches to the genre.

      Anyone new to haiku is very lucky these days as the online resources to haiku is so rich, from various Haiku Societies, and online magazines, to print magazines such as Modern Haiku and Frogpond giving samplers. In fact entire Frogpond past issues are available as PDFs which include a lot of haiku and articles, and useful book reviews for free.

      The range of haiku that appeal to me are from the assumed Classical or Traditional approaches (in English) to Japanese Language haiku via syllable counting, to modern haiku, and very contemporary work. I’m blessed. I do feel it’s vital to read contemporary haiku which includes great online magazines such as Roadrunner; Bones Journal (of with I’m a founding editor); Otoliths; is/let; and Otata.

      The above should be enjoyed as much as the often conservative Heron’s Nest online (and print) magazine which has some incredible editor’s breakdown of a haiku. Scott Mason’s commentary should be required reading: http://www.theheronsnest.com/June2016/editors-choices.html

      I only think poetry or haiku is elitist when there is a club or clique, often more common in certain general poetry magazines. As a founding editor for Haijinx (humor in haiku) and Bones Journal (contemporary/experimental) I know that “fifth liners” (favoured authors writing haiku – think 1-3 lines are the poems; 4th line is blank; 5th line is the poem’s creator) were not a priority, it was new names, writing various styles old and new. After 25 years, there’s a lot of those new names that had to run the gauntlet but are now “household names” that bucked whatever trend was imposed at the time. We should be aware of peer pressure, it stifles creativity, or at least stifles and gags creativity to be witnessed by both aspiring writers and those wanting to make the next big push in their own writing.

      I often give an anecdote about a teenage girl from Illinois who made her break out of teenage genre reading, in particular poetry, and read ‘difficult’ works. That girl won the equivalent of US$13,000 for her first poetry collection two decades later. Dedicated reading is key to development and making us better and better readers and thusly better writers.

      Many of my ‘students’ are now my own required reading, as well as required reading for any participants in my various online courses.

      Just a few thoughts and responses.

      warm regards,

      Alan

  3. You’re doing well in haiku!

  4. Stephen Page says:

    I would like to reblog this. Is that feature turned off on your site?

  5. Pingback: Good Poetry Is Art That Speaks | Charlotte Digregorio’s Writer’s Blog – Stephen Page

  6. Paul Beech says:

    Great post, Charlotte.

    I love the Plutarch quote linking poetry and painting. He had it spot on. But there’s another dimension too as all the arts rub shoulders with the potential to merge and meld in fusion works. My partner Maureen recently had a poem turned into a hauntingly beautiful piece of orchestral music, and sitting in a seaside café yesterday we overheard a group of young female dancers excitedly discussing a current project involving poetry.

    I’m talking about true poetry of course, skilfully written poetry that paints pictures, moves us and demands rereading. And you’ve given some useful pointers here. I’d just add that the “personal/universal” principle is a sound one too as personal poems that contain a universally relevant message are likely to have broader appeal than those that don’t.

    My very best,

    Paul

  7. Wonderful insights into the world of poetry. I agree that if the reader is not getting images from the first read then he or she is less likely to read the poem again.

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