Poetics #1: Multiple Poetries


The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics defines poetics (conceptions of) as “a systematic theory or doctrine of poetry. It defines poetry and its various branches and subdivisions, forms and technical resources, and discusses the principles that govern it and that distinguish it from other creative activities.” I think that a big part of what I am doing in this blog is figuring out my own poetics. What is poetry, anyway, and why do I write it?

I thought of this recently when I was looking at literary journal calls for submissions. I have mentioned before how these calls can be a little annoying. But sometimes the descriptions of what the editors are looking for can be insightful and interesting. Here is the start of one I like: “Crazyhorse aims to publish work that reflects the multiple poetries of the twenty-first century.” Poetries, plural. Yes.

When we look at the history of poetry in different cultures, or even just in our own, we see that poetry has had different purposes at different times and places, and for different groups of people. I think that these purposes are a kind of spectrum, or circle dance: poems sing, teach, remind, entertain, instruct, show, express or funnel emotion, and/or exalt. We should also remember that a single poem can do any number of these things. The longer the poem, the more likely this is true: just take Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for example.

What do your poems do?

Preminger, Alex, ed. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Enlarged ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1974.

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