Poetics is the theory and forms of poetry. That should be a reasonably straight-forward and acceptable definition excepting that it includes a form of the word being defined – something that is bad practice in providing definitions. Poetics. Poetry. Poem. Poet. These are all inter-connected words revolving around a common concept. Poetics is the discipline; a poem is the product; a poet is the artist or practitioner; poetry is the field.
Sources state that the term poetics comes from the Greek word poiein (or poein), meaning “to make”. It is a short hop from that Greek root to concepts of composition – literally making words and making meanings. Presumably a scholar of Greek language could authoritatively explain how poiein breaks down into its roots and suffixes. Apparently poiesis is the Greek word for bringing something into being – leading inevitably to the conclusion that poie (or possibly poe) is the most probable root Greek for creating or making.
Clearly this etymology does not demonstrate the narrowing of poiesis to a specific focus on composing words in an artful way. That categorization is traceable to Aristotle. In his Aesthetics, the word Poetics is used for the section focused on drama literary theory. Aristotle’s work is, at least within European academic boundaries, an opportunity to establish a point at which the various forms of the word poem came to be specifically indicate literary composition. Buried within Aristotle’s categorization is the seed of separating verse from prose – given that other sections of the Aesthetics deal with rhetoric and politics.
Clearly, this is all a roundabout way to say…poetics is the field which encompasses the theory and art of verse composition.
Poetry is a fundamental and continuous part of human language-based communication. In preliterate societies, poetry was used to conserve and communicate valued information. By rendering information in easy-to-remember and aesthetically pleasing forms, it is retained.
Poetry is a fundamentally social literary form. Poetry relies on established and shared word-meanings and cultural referents. It is collaborative to the extent that a poet must draw on the resources of the communal language in addition to their own personal craft and creativity to compose. Poets rarely own words – they borrow them from the communal language.
Poetry is the most minimalist of literary forms. This is true in several ways. As implied by the preceding two paragraphs, poetry requires only 2 resources: language, a poet. Poetry is also minimalist in form insofar is it typically attempts to condense meaning into fewer, and better chosen words. Haiku is perhaps the most minimalist tradition of poetry.
Poetry is a key form of communication for the future. Despite academic, highly-stylized and experimental (avant garde) poetics, which tend to alienate people from poetry, poetry remains a leading literary form. The lyrics of popular music are a genre of poetry. Corporate slogans are a genre of poetry.
The composition of poetry is a discipline which requires focus, precision, aesthetic judgement, imagination and an appreciation of the shared communal resource that is language. These are skills which support and develop communication skills. In a global cultural environment where more and more information is common and open (i.e. communal), the ability to convey information concisely, accurately and memorably becomes a competitive value.
References and Citations
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- Original draft: June 28, 2018
- Updated July 2, 2018