Waffle House morning, 3 a.m.
snow sounding feather soft against
the plate glass window.
Coffee, coffee and more coffee
to keep away the darkness,
make the night stretch on forever,
put the dawn back in its box.
Pen scratches, notebook rustles,
one hand plucking restlessly
at cheese fries, cooling on the plate.
Turning to the window, which is
the reflection? Fingertip to fingertip,
watching steam build circles,
bridging distance with confusion,
obfuscation of the real.
In the distance, sky is lightening,
darkness failing, protection slipping
slowly, into yet another day.
The most interesting thing about writing poetry is how vast a field it is. From highly restrictive forms such as haiku, or sonnets, to completely open “forms” like free verse , or concrete, the seasoned poet has access to an entire spectrum of types. So what, exactly, makes a particular collection of words a “poem”?
The automatic answer is that it rhymes, but that’s not really neccessary. Consider “Leaves of Green” by Walt Whitman, on of the greatest collections of free verse poems. The next thought might be the style and meter of a piece, and this is better, but not quite there. I’ve seen poems with one word per line, or in paragraphs. Then there are Concrete poems, such as Lewis Carroll’s “The Mouses Tale”, written in the shape…of a mouses tail. It doesn’t even have to be real words. Look at “Jabberwock” . Or even make much obvious sense. Consider EE Cummings. Or have perfect punctuation. Think about Don Marquis’ “Archie and Mehitabel.
It is the creative mind of the poet that makes a poem, the thoughts and feelings behind each word choice shining through in the feel of the piece, in the rythm and the rhyme. Tools, like alliteration, tonal sounds, and dissonance, can serve as ribbons, tying the separate and discrete pieces into a whole. I think that what makes a poem is the rhythm and language of it. The way it flows, or jumps, or slides, making special what would otherwise be ordinary words on a page.
Even in the most exacting of poetic forms, there is creativity. Meter and rhyme are the “walls” of the piece, but the words that fill in the form are what makes the picture. Like “paint-by-number”, the resulting poem varies widely according to the whim (and the talent) of the artist. Words are the poets paintbrush, and palette, in one. The right word, the right descriptive phrase, can be as good as a picture. Of course, like any picture, poems can be abstract, surreal, or even hyper-real, depending on the intent of the artist.
So we can see that whether or not a poem rhymes, and follows a strict form, or is flowing and free, as long as the poets creativity shines through, it is a poem. Rhythm as much as rhyme, word use as much as syllable counting, make a poem a very distinct sort of thing. A poem is a verbal painting, each clearly descriptive phrase or abstract collection of sounds making up the picture that is the whole. In my opinion, that’s what a poem is. A word picture, a sort of window through which someone you’ve never met, and may never meet, can see what you saw, and feel what you felt.