It was only last year that I began to read and appreciate different types of poetry. Prior to that, I was almost exclusively a prose reader. It follows that my reflections on the subject are still fairly ripe.
Short of the aesthetic impact in and of itself, I wish to speak of another poetic property.
I devised a couple of terms I’ll consistently refer to in their abbreviated form, so take note:
Poetic Biproduct (PB): the (lasting) impact a poetic work renders upon the reader’s imagination.
Encoding Complexity (EC): the ratio of the PB to the poem length.
An example of a high EC poem might, in little space, unveil a ‘journey’ upon all sorts of lanes of imagination, leaving the meaning to multiple interpretations if not to a total mystery.
A poem of high EC inspires much thought in remarkably little space.
Is not poetry designed to express more with less? By far not all, as I’ve observed. Not all poetry even aspires to a high EC.
And I emphasize the individual aspect to the PB (and the EC): A picture may speak one-thousand words. However, I’m primarily concerned whether
- it indeed speaks some thousand words to me
- those words challenge, inspire, and spawn ancillary ideas
- the effect endures the test of time.
Thus a poetic work of high EC is one that manages to produce a whole lot of the above in a compact form.
In a certain sense, the desire for a high EC stems from aesthetic preference (if not hedonistic pleasure). The measure does not strictly render the work ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Provided a sufficient PB, much otherwise verbose poetry (and especially prose) attains immortal ground. Unnecessary digression, however, tends to hamper value.
Also, a high EC composition usually demands increased attention. This is natural, since a more complex encoding necessitates greater decoding effort.
Now I consider this decoding process to follow hand-in-hand with the PB. Provided the effort significant, just beneath the rim of our capacity, our neural network expands, which in itself strengthens the poetic byproduct (in contrast to a low-effort reading of easily consumed and well-catered ideas.)
I imagine the following forms and genres of poetry to roughly increase in potential for a high EC:
Whether the non-poetic variant, or prose poetry, this verbose literary form usually bears a lower EC.
Oftentimes, this type of poetry narrates a story without any strict drive for compactness.
On the extreme end, some poetry appears to merely express thought in metered verse of hardly any perplexing literary device. It’s worth noting that in the ancient literary tradition, verse represented a much more standard means of publication, bearing no strict aim for lyricism, metaphorical structure or compactness.
Shorter/minor poems: lyrical, elegies, sonnets, Villanelle, etc
These more compact poetic variants often seek to evoke more with less.
An extreme case might entail something like the Haiku (three-line Japanese form of verse). It’s nothing I’ve yet come to appreciate, but then again, I don’t read Japanese and don’t highly esteem most efforts to translate most types of poetry. However, I don’t exclude the potential for very high EC within this ultra-compact framework.
Interestingly, many beginning poetry readers seem to start precisely with the compacter range of poems, though they prove least accessible for those unaccustomed to the decryption of high EC verse.
To these readers I’d sooner propose the Narrative category of poems. These generally relate a story in a lyrical fashion, with the presence of greater literary device than prose, although not to an overbearing extent.
Narrative poetry is were I started not too long ago. And once you acclimate yourself to reading tons of verse, it doesn’t take long to progress among the increasing ranks of EC. In any case, you can even pursue different categories of complexity in parallel. No need to impose any academic rigor!
To culminate this up-to-now theoretical exercise, I present some hand-picked cases of high EC poetry that I found exceptionally moving, limited to English-language works:
- John Donne (1572-1631), one of the leading figures of the Metaphysical movement, alternatively part of the Baroque period. A handful of examples:
- George Herbert (1593-1633, a devotional poet) - Jordan
- Henry Vaughan (1622-1695, another devotional poet)
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) - Kubla Khan
- Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Questions, comments? Connect.