Guest Blog: Poetry is Essential by Vanessa Shields


Guest Blog: Poetry is Essential by Vanessa Shields

The following quotes are taken from Elements of Poetry by Robert Scholes (1968)

 “I, too, dislike I it [poetry]: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in it after all, a place for the genuine” quote from Marianne Moore.

I think it’s ironic that I’m the one writing this blog on poetry. And for Black Moss Press, no less, one of Canada’s most celebrated publisher’s of poetry. I don’t have a book of poetry published. I’ve submitted to as many literary magazines as there are stars in our blistery winter nights, and I’ve been rejected by all but four (okay, two were in chapbooks…does that count)?

Here’s the truth: I’ve been writing poetry for as long as I can remember. When I think, my words process in stanzas and lines of poetry. I can say with confidence that I am a writer, and if you’d like me to be specific, I can tell you I’m definitely a poet.

Like Marianne Moore, I have quite a love/hate relationship with poetry. When Descant arrives in my mailbox, I am quick to tear it open, breathe in the thick scent of freshly printed words, and search for the poetry. But all too often I am left confused and frustrated.

There is a lot about poetry that I don’t comprehend. I can’t seem to master the art of line spacing. I don’t seem to know enough about flowers, birds or trees. I often wonder what I’m missing. Why I can’t seem to put the words on the page in a way that gets them into Room or Geist or those other coveted literary mags that my poet heart longs to be a part of.

But I can’t stop writing and I can’t stop submitting, and I certainly can’t stop tearing open books of poetry to read what others have created. I love poetry even if I only understand one line or one word.

Moore’s quote falls perfectly on the pulse of poetry – one discovers in it after all, a place for the genuine. There is something outstandingly genuine in poetry. The words, whether I understand them all or not, hit me in that core place in my chest, where my rib cage meets and my hand goes when someone tells me something bad has happened. You know that spot.

Today, poetry is as accessible as can be. It’s in the bookstores, it’s on the net, why even a ‘tweet’ can be a sweet line of a poem, can it not?  I think that there is a contempt for poetry that lies in the same place that makes us love it. People are scared of poetry because they’re scared they won’t understand it or they think it’s too literary or it’s too elite. Well, I read poetry all the time that fits into all those categories but that doesn’t negate the fact that what poetry reflects is life back to us in ways that are challenging and exciting and frustrating – in ways that are genuine. And that’s life.

Essentially, I love poetry because it mirrors what only my soul can see. And I hate it for the same reason. It makes me be accountable. It teaches me. And yes, it may teach me about flowers, birds and trees. It may teach me about love, pain and family. It may teach me about humanity’s quest to define the ‘self’ and all things earthly that there is no definitive answer to. But it teaches me, and there’s something to be said about a form of expression that cuts right into my heart and mind like poetry does.

A poet’s job is not easy. First, she has to break through the ‘contempt’ and fears and judgments that surround poetry like a slimy haze. Then she has to write without contempt, fear and judgment for her own words. A poem is born. A poem is read. A poem lasts because it’s genuine.

Even for a poet like me, who struggles with the burden of translating life into this form, poetry is essential. I can’t stop writing it. I won’t stop reading it. It is accessible. It is affordable. There’s no reason to not love it, and there’s every reason to hate it. But hate is a good word in this context.

What does poetry do to you?

(PS. Long-live rhyming poetry.)

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