I came across this poem by Philippine-American poet, Jose Garcia Villa, while preparing a lesson plan this morning. I started to wonder how many emulers feel as the poet does - that poems must have many intricate qualities to be considered worthy. Do you feel that really good poems must be "magical," or "musical?" Do they need to "hold fire" for you? Must you be able to "hear the luminance of dove and deer," or see the face of "God smiling from the poem's cover," before you are enraptured, or at least stirred emotionally, by what you read?
From the many comments and critiques I've read here and on the USP over the years, I suspect that opinions may vary.
First, a poem must be magical,
Then musical as a sea-gull.
It must be a brightness moving
And hold secret a bird's flowering.
It must be slender as a bell,
And it must hold fire as well.
It must have the wisdom of bows
And it must kneel like a rose.
It must be able to hear
The luminance of dove and deer.
It must be able to hide
What it seeks, like a bride.
And over all I would like to hover
God, smiling from the poem's cover.
-Jose Garcia Villa
I like your question. I do like lightning in poetry, but I also like chrysathamums (?)...subtlety is quite as good as fire in a poem...I don't draw lines in poetry of what I do not like, except individual poems I have read. I feel the same way about dogs. Categories are a bore. Poetry is what poetry does. I am babbling today. Sorry.
First of all, Joe, congratulations on some fine questions. As to how they relate to the poem above, I'm not sure that that particular poem does any of those things for me.
What do I look for in a poem?
1. Meaning/something in the poem that I can relate to as a human being.
2. A beautiful use of language.
3. Craftsmanship, knowing how to say the most with the least effort.
4. Feeling/something in the poem which touches the heart.
Here's what I wrote in answer to the question: "What makes poetry good?"
Poetry I think aims at communicating an idea, an emotion, a dream, or a reflection in the most efficient means possible. At the same time it attempts to evoke the deepest empathy, understanding and cooperative feelings in the reader.
There was quite a discussion of the question posed by Lady of the Night a couple of years ago on the U.S.P. Here's a link to that thread: [www.emule.com] />
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 10/28/2005 12:20PM by lg.
What evokes the magic realm in this short poem is that it is full of beautiful sounding nonsensical associations. In reality, seagulls are the most raucous of birds, but the poem calls them musical. In reality, a bird doesn't 'flower'; a bell is fat, not slender; bows don't have brains with which to be wise; roses don't kneel; doves and deer don't give off light; and 'luminance' is not something you hear. The last-line mention of God smiling from the poem hints at such incongruities being explained by the comforting biblical assurance that 'With God, all things are possible'.
The poem reminded me of Archibald MacLeish's 'Ars Poetica', which I was going to post till I found it was already on that thread to which Les has given the link. MacLeish was particularly promoting and exemplifying imagism as the essence of poetry.
In my view the core function of poetry is to use language relating to some subject to evoke in a most effective and memorable way some mental or emotional state(s) in the reader, the listener or (at minimum) the author.
Since there's an infinite variety of subjects, and a very large range of possible mental or emotional states, and a great variety of techniques (one of which is imagism) to make language memorable and evocative, and since the effect of a poem on any particular person is subjective and is conditioned by personal factors such as intelligence, education, knowledge, belief, expectation, taste, prejudice and fashion (some of which can be media-induced and manipulated, and all of which can change over time), it's not surprising that the question what is poetry is such a huge topic and that opinions on it vary.
Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 10/28/2005 11:31AM by IanB.
The thread Les linked to is a long one, so I thought it was worth extracting the MacLeish poem Ian mentioned:
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit
As old medallions to the thumb
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown –
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind –
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs
A poem should be equal to:
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea –
A poem should not mean
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/31/2005 03:11AM by StephenFryer.
The presentation in that earlier thread had a layout error in the last stanza. Should be two lines, with 'But be' forming the final line. Can you edit your post to correct?
I agree that subtlety can be a powerful force for involving and capturing a reader. Evaluating poems individually, without regard to form or classification, is, I think, the proper way to enjoy them. Rather than saying sonnets are awful, or, I don't like ballads, it is far better to just read a poem on its own merits and see if you can come away with something from the effort.
Les and Ian:
I find it interesting that you both evaluated "Lyric 17" for its poetic quality. I submitted it merely to elicit responses on the criteria it presents for considering a poem's value. You've both presented excellent criteria for evaluating a poem's worth and I think Les' four points are all contained within Ian's astute observation that poetry ought to "make language memorable and evocative." I agree.
"Ars Poetica" is the classic example of a poet commenting on the essence and nature of a poem. I think it is more "poetic" than Villa's declaration but I think Villa's provides more palpable examples.
In reality, seagulls are the most raucous of birds, but the poem calls them musical. In reality, a bird doesn't 'flower'; a bell is fat, not slender; bows don't have brains with which to be wise; roses don't kneel; doves and deer don't give off light; and 'luminance' is not something you hear.
I would only ask: Who's reality? For some, the imaginative dimensions of 'reality' are the most 'real' of all.
I don't mean to sound argumentative, but I suspect, as a species, the mythopoeic aspects of our lives far predate Greek science and British philosphical stripping of experience to fit utilitarian functionalism.
I love it.
That line, 'a poem should not mean but be' is perhaps the most nonsensical line in modernist poetry, from a linguistic point of view. MacLeish has been raked over the coals for it for two generations of literary critics because of the logical paradoxes it leads to. Yet, I still love his line and I always read it with pleasure.
Sorry about the layout error, Ian - and thanks, Stephen for editing it for me. I don't get on the site every day these days.
JoeT - I only posted the MacLeish to make it easier for people to follow the thread - not because I held any particular brief for that poem over the other one. Like the arguments as to whether poetry should rhyme, whether 'difficult' poetry is worth the effort etc, these theoretical discussions are not of more than passing interest to me. A poem, whatever that is, is something I take in as an entity and it either does something for me or not. What it does varies so much that qualitative comparisons and rankings become meaningless. To me, to say a poem isn't a poem, or that one is less worthwhile than another is as pointless as comparing the different sorts of prose - is travel writing 'better' than journalism, horror stories more valuable than sci fi, is descriptive imaginative writing better than accurate truths carefully described? These things can be interesting intellectual arguments, but I'd rather read a book!