“Spirals and spiraling, lead us to meaning. This is the poetic process.”
What is poetry? Technically, it can be defined as the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts. To the poet who is engaged in the poetic process and wishes to define his art, not much is said by this definition. To the uninitiated, a mere reader (literally, without the attempt at an analysis) of poetry, this would suffice.
But, is a mere reader even interested in this (dictionary) definition, as to its adequacy, in capturing the essence of poetry? Or is it only the concern of the poet, that the poet, when writing a poem knows implicitly what poetry is, the definition being the foundation where a composition (poem) finds its support, and that this definition can also be explicitly stated? Or the other way around where, in the process of writing a poem, it allows for an understanding of a definition or a revelation that gives the poem meaning and value.
I will say that the concern for an adequate definition of poetry is the poet’s concern, and that a mere reader who accepts this inadequate definition is just being indifferent, acting out of convenience, with “the indifference of those who can busy themselves with everything” (Heidegger). But can a mere reader still attempt to arrive at a definition of poetry?
Yes, a mere reader still can participate, but there must be an abdication of one’s indifference, to relinquish the comforts granted by one’s act of convenience. Thus, one must become a poet.
And how does one become a poet? This is the initial task, that this question can be asked. And to answer this question is to have an understanding of what poetry is—its meaning, its essence. It is to ask the question, “what is poetry?” And to participate in the asking of the question and in the seeking of an answer or answers to the question is the minimum requirement of one’s becoming a poet, to engage in the asking, not merely to settle in what is given.
What is poetry?
There are as many definitions of poetry as there are poets, and it would take forever if all definitions are to be considered and discussed, aside from the fact that such a task, if not difficult, is impossible. So, how is one to begin this task?
It is only through the actual experience of composition that one arrives at a definition that is adequate. A definition, though particular, of an individual (a poet), is not idiosyncratic. Though a poet arrives at a definition through an assent to self-judgment, the fact remains that it derives from the experience of poetry—from poetry itself. So, what is poetry then?
Freedom. This is the experience of the poetic process. The poet is always a free man. The freedom that is within the abode of being, where one can speak of everything, anything, not nothing. The abode where the poet can continuously create, without any restrictions,
limitations. To work on the material that is being. An artist with all the freedom available to him (artistic freedom), bound not to anyone, but only to himself. The poet is thus a semi-god (Heidegger), the artist as involved in the process of creation.
Thus, the poet can write about love, death, nature, pain, hunger, despair, even of nothingness (robbing it of its power, turning it into something, dominating it—the emptiness/nothingness of space dominated by the language of the poet). Poetry is everything. To read poetry is to read life. To speak a poem is to speak life. Poetry is life. To live a poetic life is to live a life of freedom. God, as Being-itself, the source of everything is “the” Poet. His creation is poetic. Existence is the greatest poem ever written.
Everyone—anyone—can be poetic. Of anything, a poem can be written. To write a poem, a poem about life, that which speaks of life, is to revere life. It is to revere the work of the Creator. And the reward of this reverence is freedom. Not the kind of freedom that leads to the contemplation of idiosyncratic actions, but the kind freedom that is true to what “is,” and this is authentic freedom.
Thus, it is to choose to become a poet, to write a poem, to live a poetic life. It is to live a life of freedom, “and that has made all the difference,” as the poet Robert Frost would end his poem.
Tyron Keith Maru Varias Sabal teaches Logic and Philosophy of Religion at Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan.