Poetry Has a Purpose

I was reading an Ian M. Banks novel, `The Use of Weapons <>`_, and there's a scene where the main character reports on having spent a few years "trying to become a poet." And we get this very idyllic tale of him surrounding himself with beauty and simplicity. It didn't work for the character and I suspect it wouldn't work for you.

This reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago that made the argument that poems are made of words rather than images or some sort of spiritually inspired emotional state. In short, poetry is about form, structure, and the conveyance of meaning at the level of the word and that "transcendence" doesn't really play into the craft or purpose of poetry. Or at least, poetry is not exceptional among literary forms in this regard. I think that this is basically true, and is probably a good way of approaching creative writing and texts in general. Maybe this is just a tychoish thing.

Here's a corollary, and I don't think that it's too contradictory even though it nearly sounds it:

Poetry, and texts in general, exist in the real world and require a purpose to succeed. Poets don't just spend a lot of time "living like a poet" and are then write poems that grow from these experiences. Writing well requires some skills and some basic training, but beyond that foundation writing needs a purpose or a goal. It's easy to see how this might be true in prose forms, but I think the exact same is true of poetry. Perhaps more so.

The character in the novel was attempting to achieve some sort of aesthetic, working from an idea of "how poets should work." While it can be hard to learn what the poet's ulterior purpose is, that is a different issue. The most important thing is that you have something to say, regardless of the form.

Hear Hear!

comments powered by Disqus