Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Three Qualities of a Good Poem

So, I've had a brief urge to write and share poetry this week. Now, I'd like to talk about what I like in a good poem.

I think it really comes down to a few elements. One, the poem needs to have a good cadence. Two, the poem needs to resonate with me on a personal level. And three, the poem needs to evoke an emotion. Poetry doesn't need to rhyme to be good, although I do dig a good rhyme. Anyway, on the occasion that I do review poetry, these are the things I look for.

1. Cadence
Think of poetry as a form of musical expression. There may or may not be tunes associated with the words, but they should lend themselves to be spoken in a certain rhythm. I think some of the best poetry does this almost without the reader noticing that they are falling into a pattern. The best poetry is written such that the reader is pulled in and almost feels the beat in their heart. It's satisfying on a primal level. This is something The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe, does very well.

This is the copy of The Raven that I own on my Kindle. It's perpetually free, so I hope you grab a copy. When I was in middle school, I memorized it for English class. Of course, now I only remember the tag line, but it was pretty fun learning and reciting it.

2. Resonance
Besides being musical and lending itself to a rhythm, poetry needs to resonate with the reader on a personal level. By this, I mean that the poem needs to be relatable. The poetry I like most is that which focuses on things I'm familiar with, like nature, people, and animals. If I can picture what's described in the poem, the words come alive. That doesn't mean the poem must be exactly related to my experiences. After all, poetry is a window, not into my soul, but the poet's. A good poem draws the window. A lasting poem does it in such a way that time has no meaning. On that note, sometimes poetry is disguised as something else, a play, for example.

Here's one that's pretty good, The Tempest by William Shakespeare. So what resonated with me? The insults of course. No one throws a good insult in quite as elegant a fashion as Shakespeare. And the way the words flow, jabs and all, definitely qualify as poetic, in my opinion. To be completely honest, I haven't actually read The Tempest, but I did attend the play last year. So, I guess that qualifies as having been read to. :-)

And yes, he also wrote actual poetry. Here's a link to Shakespeare Poetry on Amazon.

3. Emotion
This is the vital link. In both of the previous examples, though I didn't mention it, emotion is a key
player. In The Raven, a growing sense of dread permeates the poem. In The Tempest, humor is the main player, but there's also a touch of romance. A good poem evokes the intended emotions: fear, love, betrayal, dread, laughter. Flowery words or no, rhyme or no, without some element of emotion, a poem is just a jumble of words on a page. Even a simple haiku can do this. In fact, haiku, with it's limits, forces the poet to pack everything that makes a poem good into a tiny package.

Here's a link to some  Haiku on Amazon. I really wanted to recommend a collection called Tennessee Haiku by Charles Hooper, which I picked up on Smashwords, but I can't seem to find it. I have, however, found a Charles Hooper on Amazon, who just might be the same guy. So, check out Charles Hooper's books and let me know what you think. And here's a link to free poetry on Smashwords.

To end, I'd like to feature the work of an author I've interacted with before. You may remember Augustine Sam from an interview I did with him some time back. Anyway, he has a lovely book of poetry that I think does well in all three of these categories.

I'd love to hear what kind of poetry you enjoy. Let me know in the comments.