On Poetry

A poem is a composition, an arrangement of parts. Or a rearrangement, or a disarrangement. Poets build things, edifices, structures, often claustrophobic, and the reader must throw open the windows to breathe. But just as often the poet tears structures down. Then the poet is a demolition worker swinging a sledgehammer, pulling on a pry bar, claw hammer hanging from the tool belt.

The parts of a poem are most often words, but not only words, and sometimes no words. The spaces in between the words, the distances between lines, the s p a c e s between the letters, e v e n, are also parts, part of the composition. The reader must wear a hard hat, walking through the poem, the construction zone, and steel toe boots, and ear plugs.

Or a poem may have no words, no alphabetical features, a nonliterate composition. Concrete Poetry contains many examples of poems composed without words. Nails are periods, screws commas. Some poems are welded together, others sewn, still others hot glued. Back in the 1960s, some poets used plumber’s caulk and boiled lead and chiseled the lines together like pipes, careful to make sure the pipes fell in the run.

But a poem may not be seen, if it’s read aloud, if the poet sings. The reader may then want to wear snorkel gear. The poet is then a cotton swab. The poet wants to clean the wax from the reader’s ears. Poets are often unreasonable, and arguments break out like bar fights, the hard hat, the steel pot, now flung like a disc across the room.

Then the poet returns with flowers, a bouquet of red roses. The roses are lovely, but beneath the glossy green leaves, all up and down the long stemmed roses, hide thorns like the claws of a raptor.