Ten Reasons to Write a Poem
Poetry is far from becoming a cultural artifact regardless of the Information Age’s dry mechanical demands. The discipline serves too many vital functions to be avoided or overlooked for any extended period of time. In fact, everyone should write a poem, and soon. Following are ten reasons why.
- When you write a poem, you participate in the oldest literary tradition. True, writing sprang for commercial needs over 5,000 years ago in ancient Sumer, but before fiction and drama, people wrote poetry to illustrate insights that no other form of writing could. When you write a poem, you’re sharing a language and its associated concepts with the best of the departed who, long ago, expressed their wonder of mankind and the universe in the early stages of the Agricultural Revolution and through the birth of the city-state.
- Writing poetry allows you to speak to the essence of your culture in strikingly lucid terms. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey defined the soul of ancient Greece so powerfully that Alexander the Great treated them as sacred and historical touchstones. In the 20th century, James Joyce took the Odyssey and transformed it into a Modernist quest in Ulysses, perhaps the most accomplished novel of the previous century. At this very moment, someone somewhere is writing a poem that will distill an aspect of humanity in one refined poetic expression.
- Sometimes, writing a poem is the best way to express an emotional truth. Defining poetry can be as difficult as writing it, but certain characteristics help explain its operative features. Good poetry tends to be compact, rhythmic, meaningful, and figurative. When prosaic and verbose explanations fail to capture the essence of what you’re trying to say, figurative language delivered with velocity and lyrical beauty can articulate an unforgettable meaning. Take, for instance, William Blake’s “The Sick Rose,” which observes the tension between innocence and experience:
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
- Poetry is a special gift, especially as it relates to the language of love. Observe this poem by Lord Byron. It’s hard to imagine Byron’s object of interest not being charmed by these alluring comparisons, regardless of his degree of sincerity.
THERE be none of Beauty’s daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When as if its sound were causing
The charmed ocean’s pausing
The waves lie still and gleaming
And the lull’d winds seem dreaming:
And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o’er the deep
Whose breast is gently heaving
As an infant’s asleep:
So the spirit bows before thee
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion
Like the swell of summer’s ocean.
- Writing a good poem forces you to be precise. You must be attentive to your message, mood, tone, and language, all of which will be delivered to an audience that will probably respond in some unexpected ways. This means applying your best craftsmanship to the effort. Precision demonstrates a sense of integrity.
- Poetry writing can help you better understand what’s troubling you at any given moment. As W.B. Yeats says in “Anima Hominis,” “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”
- Given the Arts’ holistic nature, writing poetry will refine and develop your other creative efforts. Poetry is music to the brain, a protean creature that can shape-shift into any number of forms. Even the silence between stanzas can intimate sublime meaning that finds its way into other artistic expressions through the varying frequencies of cadence and volume.
- Poetry writing is cathartic. Throughout the process, we tap into something indefinable and bigger than ourselves. As a result, we somehow feel more human and complete in our attempt to express the inexpressible. As Carl Sandburg suggests in “Sort Talk on Poetry,” “What can be explained is not poetry.” Learning to come to terms with this mystery through poetry mitigates fear and trauma.
- A poem can serve subversive ends, effecting positive change by challenging unjustified or unlawful authority. Time and again, poetry has proven to be a powerful weapon on the political and cultural battlefields. The list of poems supporting this claim is endless and ever-expanding.
- The effort to actualize a vision through poetry speaks to an expression of will that everyone should experience at least once in life. From one generation to the next, some primal force revealed in the writing process speaks to the immediacy in ephemeral existence like little else. Richard Wilbur says it well enough in “The Writer”:
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.