Poetry: Its Form and Expression

April is recognized as poetry month and poetry itself has many defining moments in its history. That is recognized in many languages too.

The earliest well known poems are anonymous British verse like the late 14th century Middle English piece, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and also the Old English heroic epic poem, “Beowulf” which is now most widely understood than ever since Gaelic writer, Seamus Heaney, translated it into more approachable and understandable verse.

Many of the earliest poems weren’t even written out in printable form, but memorized over the years and sent down to generation after generation.

Epic poems like The Iliad and The Odyssey are Greek masterpieces that are very heady and very lengthy to read even with the English translation. The Middle English Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is a book length series of narrative poems like “The Wife of Bath” and “The Pardoner” to name a couple.

This Middle English masterpiece of literature is nearly impossible for the average reader to comprehend without an accurate Modern translation line by line to be seen.

Then, of course, the sonnet is the next in history to cover if you’re a poetry aficionado. Reading all types of poems can definitely help to improve the diversity of a writer’s style if they’re an aspiring poet. A sonnet is often difficult to understand and needs to be re-read many times to properly digest it.

The original fourteen line rhyming poem originated around 1235 in southern Italy and its term sonnet is established from the term ‘sonneto’ which is Italian for ‘a little sound’ or ‘a little song.’ *1 The Italian sonnets are referred to as Petrarchan and the latter ones from England are known as Elizabethan from the times of Queen Elizabeth I mostly written by William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser and John Milton during the Early Modern English eras.

The Petrarchan sonnets are stylized in an Italian rhyming scheme made famous by Francesco Petrarch, who was born in the 14th century of Italian descent. *2

Elizabethan sonnets are of iambic pentameter with rhyming couplet and fourteen lines and stylized very tightly. More modern writers of the sonnet have taken liberties of just making the poem fourteen lines without adhering to any of these strict contingencies of the original.

Most of the more well-known sonnets are by infamous authors are usually with some sort of amorous theme. Yet today, with other poetic forms like free verse, a sonnet need not rhyme at all and just be of a fourteen line standard.

Modern poems since have focused more in sounds, images and storytelling. A prose poem is an example of a story-teller. Poetry has evolved to such imaginative ideas since the expanded minds of the Sixties.

Allen Ginsberg, a Beatnik poet, and his friends wrote many perverse and drug induced themes. Ginsberg’s most famous book was “The Howl” which was embraced by many of the Sixties’ generation.

The 19th century poets like Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Shelleys (Percy Bysshe and Mary, his wife), Wordsworth, Keats are known as the poets of Romanticism.

This term evolved because they wrote with such passion and emphasis on “imagination and emotions.” They used often ideas that were “autobiographical” to flesh out their poetry.

Not only did they write poems of minimal length, they also created many poems of grand length: like Byron’s, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound.

Just because they are referred to as Romantic poets, these 19th century poets were not writers of the romance novels like today’s Danielle Steele and Barbara Cartland.  They are much earlier than those authors who write a dime-a-dozen paperbacks with such simple love stories.

The writers of the 19th century were true pioneers of a new era in poetry and left their stamp in the history of great literature.

The Gothic novel, Frankenstein was the most famous writing to arise out of the Romantic period and it was authored by Mary Shelley, also a writer of poetry, but her poetry lived in the shadow of her husband. To this day, vague adaptations of the book appear in horror films loosely based on her subjects.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetic piece, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is the most infamous poem of the Romanticism for it was induced by the writer’s opium dream as was his other one, “Kubla Khan.”

Coleridge learned much from his studies at the university in Cambridge, but his poetry still evolved although he never attained a formal degree.

Some of the more modern poets are famed because of their tragic lives. Sylvia Plath lived in competition with her handsome husband, Ted Hughes and Anne Sexton was their contemporary as well.

Both Sylvia and Anne were accomplished Confessional poets, meaning they wrote through their depths of emotions like depression and other moods. Both of them wrote truly expressive poetry from their inner intellect. Robert Lowell was the head instructor of their poetry workshop in Boston, Massachusetts. Sylvia was an accomplished writer for Seventeen magazine while she was a young college student at Smith College in Massachusetts.

Sylvia graduated from Smith and The Collected Poems, she wrote, which were edited by her husband, received the Pulitzer Prize after her passing. Anne Sexton never had formal schooling in poetry, but this didn’t stop her from receiving her own Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Many musicians aspire to be poets in their own right. Bob Dylan is known for his poetic style and so was Jim Carroll of the Jim Carroll Band and the famous, Basketball Diaries, which became renowned in the United States when Leonardo DiCaprio starred as the young Jim in the big screen movie debut in the late Nineties.

His original poetry book of the same name can be found for it originated before the screenplay of the same name. Henry Rollins of punk rock fame, Black Flag, also emerged as a poetic writer and he was published by the big publisher, Random House.

Many musicians have tried to cross-over to poet status like Billy Corrigan of the Alternative rock band, The Smashing Pumpkins.  Lou Reed, too, of the Velvet Underground and solo status also presented some of his lyrics in poetic book type form.

Even Sting of the Seventies and Eighties rock band, The Police, had his lyrics of his songs transcribed into a book that appeared in poetry form.

Many people might assume that poems are easy to create and all one needs to do is spread words across a page and add some rhymes and some imagery, but actually more thought is put into poetry of true caliber.

Poems are truer to their form when they have deep imagery, metaphors, similes, alliteration, hyperbole, and paradox or a combination of just a couple of these.

Other poems are true to form in Japan. The Japanese famous poetic form is the haiku. The haiku is a tightly knit poem consisting of three lines. The first has five syllables, the second has seven syllables and the last has five syllables.

Typical haikus are nature based poems usually about images and sounds complementing each other.

Poetry can be a great way to express one’s feelings and helps to purge emotion. Like journaling, it is an adventure and can be private, public, published or non-published.  The best way to start out a new journey to become a poet is to read as many writers as possible.

This will help you to find your own voice after examining others. Reading translations are helpful too for there are many poets of non-English origin that are well-accomplished in their own right like the Chilean, Spanish poet- Pablo Neruda, the Spanish poet- Frederico Garcia Lorca, the French poet- Victor Hugo and the famous sculptor and Italian poet- Michelangelo Buonarroti and the German writing poet- Rainer Maria Rilke and the Greek poets- Ovid and Homer just to name a few.

“[Pablo] Neruda is among the more widely translated poets in the world.  [ . . . ]  He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971.” *5  His work and its imagery has made such an impression on me that after reading Stavan’s multi-translated volume on Neruda, I was able to cease a temporary writer’s block and continue forth with some poems of my own.

Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet is concise yet inspirational. It’s ground breaking material to inspire new and experienced writers alike.

Since April is poetry month see if you can start an adventure into poetics by reading the best and trying your best to express yourself whether it emerges as an epic poem, a sonnet, a free verse, or a confessional piece or just a simple, but challenging haiku.

Writing poetic fiction and/ or realism can be a self-examined life and/ or cathartic to one’s soul.

Being a poet is more than technique, it’s an attitude and a way of existence. It’s not necessary to be manic or hyper or depressed to create substantial poetry. I find that I create my best work after a series of evaluations of my own stability.

Being on a deviant drug or chemical is not the way to write, although others in the past might have done so. Stability is the best way to be prolific for drug highs or lows can seriously hinder. Now is the time to start your new journey and celebrate poetry month.

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Radu Balas

Radu is the Founder of Publishing Addict and author of "Sell More Books Using Your Author Website | The Easiest Way To Brand, Build, Market, and Manage Your Authorship" Soon available on Amazon.

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