Monday 17 January 2011

What Is This Thing Called Poetry? A guest post by author & poet Mark Van Aken Williams

Today I have the pleasure to introduce Mark Van Aken Williams, an amazing author and poet, who has generously accepted the opportunity to guest post about writing poetry today. I couldn't resist asking him after reading a wonderful collection of his called Circus by Moonlight.

What Is This Thing Called Poetry?

Mozart claimed that his letters came from God. Seamus Heaney said that his poetry came from a metaphorical dig, to uncover the hiding places of his power. For each, the result could be referred to as the source of creative inspiration.
So what is it and where does it come from? There are concepts of poetry that developed in separate ancient civilizations, which had no contact with each other. Yet their ideas and notions about poetry had similarities.
From the beginning in Western culture, there has been a dual attitude toward this source. The poem is made not only by the poet, but it is given to him by a deity or spirit. From this tradition, we still equate inspiration with divine gifts or with some sort of spiritual enlightenment. We think of the very best poets, as those who submit to influences stronger than they are, because what they perceive to see seems inconceivable to them (things that as humans we can only have an inaccurate and vague notion of).
In the New World, the Mayan culture believed that poetry enraptured man, and intensified his emotions and perceptive powers. It enabled him to perceive what he (as a human) ordinarily could not. Once enraptured, the poet would speak the only truth on earth.
I do not subscribe to the influence of an enlightened spirit or Muse, or God. I see poetry as a way to plumb the depths of my imagination, through what I have experienced (especially childhood), and what I have read (here I’m talking about development of the intellect). For me, a poem is something that says more in a few words than a novel can in five hundred pages, with wit and word-play. It has an extraordinary mixing of music and thought. The job of the poet is to choose the right words, not only for sound (the music of poignant language) and connotation (landscape), but even for the countenance of them.
The poem corresponds to a centrifuge of sound, alliteration and rhythm. The reader will be walking into a world for the very first time; a world of terseness and parsimony. True poetry is derived from the poet’s peculiar type of knowledge, which is the fruit of his authentic inner experience, the result of intuition (perhaps this is the part many mistake for spiritualism). So the poem becomes a profound expression, through symbol and metaphor, of what the poet has intuitively and mysteriously discovered.
Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal, when discussing the creation of some new poetry, “I feel my mind, my imagination, nudging, sprouting, prying & peering.”
I could not have said it better.
Another person said, “What makes a good poem? A good poet.”

Thank you so much, Mark, for this wonderful post! If you'd like learn more about Mark and his work you can do so by clicking the following links:

So how about you? Do you dabble in poetry? How do your ideas come about?


  1. There is something about poetry that cuts to the heart of our soul. the strong words, the imagery, the emotion - so powerful!

  2. I've dabbled, but luckily very rarely. :)

  3. I like what you said about a poem saying more than an entire novel.

    I never thought about it that way before, but I think I agree.

    Thanks to both Jessica and Mark--what a great post! :D

  4. Beautifully said.

    I used to write poetry, but I haven't done it for ages. I do so love to read it though.

  5. Poetry is my first love, I miss that creative process very much and envy people who are still writing.

  6. Intense emotional situations always inspire me to write poetry. Sometimes when I look back it's like, WOW! Sometimes it's, UGH! But always powerful

  7. Great post!
    Enjoyed it, thanks to the both of you.

    For me my novels are made up stories. Each of my poems holds a little something from inside of me. A small piece of my soul.

    I used to say my poems were gifted to me, but a friend told me that I should take some of the credit. :)

  8. argh, poetry, argh. We've discussed this... But at least now if I *need* poetry, I know where to go~ ;p <3

  9. I like the twisty words and meanings in poetry.

  10. I love poetry...I just can't write it as well as I would like.

    Great guest blog!

  11. hi miss jessica & mr mark. wow thats a lot of stuff to think on. i like that part bout mixing music and the stuff you think. maybe that how some poems end up being song like how david did in the bible. i did a couple poems but mostly theyre pretty crummy. maybe its like writing and you could learn stuff to make it better.
    ...hugs from lenny

  12. Thanks Mark. I totally agree with you. And I love the Sylvia Plath quote -- she's one of my favorites.
    And thanks Jessica for inviting Mark to guest blog.

  13. Do not laugh. I mean it.
    But once, when I was young (really young) I watched "professional" wrestling with my uncle and I had a *small* crush on Sean Michaels and Bret someone-or-other from the Midnight Rockers (even their name was cheesy!). I wrote a really, really, REALLY bad rhyming poem acknowledging my love for them (both of them) and my awe of their skill (ha ha ha). To my shock - and now dismay - they read it on air. Some of my family members STILL tease me about it.
    I have not dabbled much since :-)

  14. I have tried to write some poems , I write about life expereiences and wildlife well about anything I think. There are better poets than me but it's something I enjoy doing.


  15. One of the things I love most about poetry is the role the reader plays in the poem's success. Each person brings to the reading her own set of life experiences and values, which transcends the poet's intentions to create a new, parallel universe of the poem's meaning.

    Great post. Off to explore Mark's sites.

  16. I haven't written any poetry in years (not since college), but I do enjoy reading it. Whether it's tight and uniform or free and flittery, poems have a way of capturing emotion unlike any other media.

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this; thanks for sharing.

    P.S. Love the Plath quote.

  17. I haven't written any poetry since I was a teen.

    This was a great post!

  18. Thanks for this Jessica - appreciated - and Mark, that was insightful!

  19. Good Job !!!



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