Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The argument about poetry

This year at college we’re studying the Psalms and we had our first lecture on it yesterday.  Though almost all of my subjects at college are the same as J’s, this is one that isn’t (because I’m studying the Old Testament in English and J is doing it in Hebrew).  J will study the Psalms too but not until later in the year.  So I was telling him about my class later in the afternoon.

Psalms are examples of Hebrew poetry so we started the lecture talking about what poetry is.  It turns out that J and I have different definitions of poetry, specifically, his definition is much narrower than mine.  Now, I’ve written some poetry in my time, mostly in the anxiety-ridden final year of school, and I suppose not much of it was very good.  But I fought for my definition of poetry because what I’ve written doesn’t fit into J’s definition. 

Here’s what our lecturer had to say about poetry.  Poetry uses images and metaphors, it condenses experiences (economy of expression as J eloquently put it), there are less verbs in poetry than in prose (called verb gapping), poetry can have some sense of metre, and it can have structure with the use of parallelism, word pairs and so on.  But poetry is more like a syndrome than a disease.  To diagnose a syndrome you have to tick a number of boxes from a list of symptoms, but they don’t all have to be there, and it will be a different set of symptoms in each case. 

Here's some pages from my year 12 poetry textbook, complete with tabs and scribblings.

I didn’t really mean to write about our argument about what poetry is (but you might like to know that J apologised for devaluing my poetry with his definition, though he’s yet to read any of it). 

I wanted this post to be about how I’m excited to be studying the psalms.  Though I didn’t always enjoy studying poetry at school I actually find myself wanting to go back and read some poetry again.  And I’m inspired to write some poems again.  Maybe, if you keep an eye out, you’ll even see some here one day!

1 comment:

  1. I like the syndrome rather than disease definition. Part of the beauty of much of poetry is in its flexibility (even if that's not how they teach it at high school!) Having done the Psalms in Hebrew, and now Swahili poetry, I reckon that both are more about how something feels than what it actually says.