Woodchucks Illustration

For this persona, I thought that Nicole Kidman from the movie Destroyer was an apt choice. While I haven’t seen the film, I did watch the trailer and Kidman’s character seems driven to violence by deep anger and vengeance, which isn’t dissimilar from “Woodchucks”‘ narrator. While the narrator is trying to protect her garden and not get revenge, she is just as driven. The speaker experiences a deep, almost feral urge to annihilate the woodchucks and describes using the gun as “…righteously thrilling.” Even when most of them are gone, she remains obsessed with the last one; “All night I hunt his humped-up form.I dream/I sight along the barrel in my sleep.”

I imagined her as older and maybe a little haggard for a few reasons. First is that in the poem, she compares the woodchucks “as no worse/for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes/and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.” So, obviously, she’s probably old enough to have enjoyed that liquor and tobacco. Also, she is the one out of the people in the house that takes action, so I presumed she was an older authority figure. Lastly, since the speaker is a “lapsed pacifist fallen from grace,” she has had enough time to solidify her belief in nonviolence and seen them worn away to nothing. Now, she isn’t worried about simply protecting her garden (if that was even the whole reason to begin with), but she is consumed by her thirst for killing.

 

Slack Discussion Summary

“I’d add that poems are often metaphorical or symbolic, and are structured by stanzas” — Alyssa

Alyssa posted this early on in the discussion, snd I think that it is a good example of the classes initial thoughts on poetry. Not many of us have much experience with poetry, but we knew enough from past readings that poetry usually has some common characteristics, like metaphorical language and a unique structure.

“Some poems tell stories. Some novels have lyric moments. Some plays have narrators. The point of having the conversation is to try and get at the essence of what makes these genres tick.” — Jason Coates

In response to similar statements, Jason pointed out that there is more overlap between genres than we would think, and that looking only at surface structures, we would not have a complete definition. We would have to look further.

“I would distinguish a poem from a novel or play by looking at the poetic features as well as grammar used in the poem.  Novels are usually longer than poems and, in my opinion, they use descriptive language and actions of the characters to express their emotions.  There is no set structure in poetry like there is for novels and plays (plot).  Poetry can have different forms (some have structure, some do not, others have rhymes while some do not as well) using poetic features to describe the emotions behind the meaning of the poem.” — Catherine Fu

Catherine Fu added here that there are underlying structures that can help separate the genres, and that was plot. Narrative fiction relies on plot and conflict to keep it interesting, while poetry relies more heavily on emotion and form. Of course, there are many poems with plot, but I think that this part of the discussion is where we got closest to the main difference between poetry and other genres. While there are general formatting and content trends that were discussed, I think that looking to the deeper supports of the works has been the most productive.

 

Kavanagh Illustration

In my original post, I said that poetry as a genre could be described as “a collection of words artfully arranged, usually with an underlying purpose.” I think that that definition scratches the surface, but when I thought about it more, I realized that it was less “artful” and more “precise”. While, any literary work is art, thus arranged artistically, poems show a level of precision in both syntax and vocabulary that, I think in general, is higher than other genres. And it needs to be — the length of poems is usually much shorter than a play or novel, so the poet must be more concise in order to achieve the desired effect. In addition, they also have a strong focus on imagery. So, I’d say that most poems have these two characteristics: high precision and imagery.

When looking through the poems assigned for this week, it’s easy to find many examples of these features, but I’ve chosen Patrick Kavanagh’s poem “Epic” for a demonstration. The poem is only fourteen lines long and compares the importance of local and global events. The poem is quite short, so he has to fit the entire discussion (which could easily fit an entire book) into it. To do this he concisely sets the scene:

  • “When great events were decided: who owned/That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land/Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.” — The situation is a neighborly argument over a plot of land, presumably in a rural community. The situation is tense with the threat of violence.
  • “That was the year of the Munich bother.” — It takes place during World War II

So, the reader has a vivid idea of the topic, time, setting, conflict, and mood all in less that 30 words. And, it also has a great example of imagery.

  • “And old McCabe, stripped to the waist, seen/Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –” — Here, Kavanagh describes to us the image of a daring and angry old man stepping over the boundaries despite the threat of the other families’ weapons. I particularly like the phrase, “blue cast-steel,” since it gives the feel and impression of the weapons without saying “rifle” or “pitchfork.”

So, this work of literature would, with my definition, be considered a poem.


When looking at Natalie’s post, I agreed with her assessment that poems exist outside of the traditional laws of language and expression. I think that that’s a great addition to the definition of a poem, and if I were to look at Kavanagh’s piece, it’s obvious that it doesn’t follow traditional writing rules since it’s organized in stanzas. While it isn’t the be all end all signifier, it is a helpful piece of the puzzle.

But Raven’s post was the most interesting to me, because they stopped trying to make a definition all together. The post reads, “it is limitless and free. Poetry is its own unique thing and there are no boundaries.” I think that this activity and the discussions that we’ve had show that everyone has different ideas of what poetry is. It’s logical to assume from all that trial and error that maybe there just isn’t a definition. While I do personally think there is some essence central to poetry, I am starting to question whether or not we can put it into words.

 

Poetry? Who is she?

Based on the examples from this week, we can see that poetry is simply art using words. So in its most fundamental form, a poem is a collection of words artfully arranged, usually with an underlying purpose. While this description is vague, it must be due to the wide variety in form and content. It is distinguished from other literary genres, such as fiction writing, by an emphasis on imagery and observation rather than story and character (though these can also exist in poems). Traditionally they are arranged into stanzas (“Incident,” “Bertha in the Lane,” etc.) and most often use strong imagery (“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”), but these are not hard and fast rules. In terms of content, the sky is the limit. Just in this week’s batch of poems, there are pieces about the afterlife (“Heavenly Cities”), the relationship between two sisters (“Bertha in the Lane”), an uncomfortable lunch (“Hysteria”), and childhood experiences with racism (“The Incident”). Poetry can take so many forms and have so many purposes that a concrete definition is difficult to pin down.


Update:

When looking through other people’s definitions, I found Natalie’s to be the most similar to mine. She wrote that “poetry is using words to convey something (maybe a feeling, a place, an event, or a person…) in a way that our perceived “laws” of language do not allow.” I agree that poetry often steps outside of the bounds of colloquial speech and that the form of poetry is extremely broad, but I would’t say that poetry as a whole necessarily breaks language rules, it just has different, looser ones. For example, in academic writing, thoughts and discussions are separated by paragraphs, in poetry they are often separated by stanzas, and in speech they are separated by pauses (if at all).

KAT’s was also very intriguing to me, since they chose to distinguish poetry in a very different way. Their basic idea was very open ended, listing poetry as “an art that using words.” However, when looking to compare poetry to other types of literature, they chose to use the poem’s sub-genre as a guide. They write “We can sort of recognize the difference between genres by looking for Standard rules of capitalization in prose poetry, rhymes in narrative poems, or try to count the syllables for blank verse in Shakespeare’s dramatic poems.” So, rather than finding some ephemeral essence of poetry and using that to differentiate between a novel and a poem, an approach using more specific structures may be more helpful to the novice.

I think that Jimmy’s post has a very interesting comparison that can shed some light on poetry’s place in literature. The blogpost reads: “rather than emphasizing the story as a novel would poetry emphasizes […] provoking a response much like a painting would.”  While novels can also provoke a response, I loved the comparison to a painting and I’d like to add to it; for me, it seems that if poetry is a painting, other literary genres are posters. Paintings and posters are composed very similarly, using rules of color, balance, and composition. The main difference is time — for a poster, it is designed so that the viewer understands its message as quickly as possible, while a painting can be viewed at a more leisurely pace. More detail can be put into it and more diverse moods expressed.

So, if we use this metaphor for fiction and poetry, fiction often has a clearer message and many adhere to clear plot structures while poetry has more space to “breathe” and be enjoyed. Now, in both cases these are generalities — there are simple paintings and experimental posters, just as there are fast poems and freeform fiction, but at the end of the day, a poster is a poster and a painting is a painting.

 

Introduction

Hey! I’m Jay and I’m a sophomore in Communication Arts. I’m available at crilleyj@mymail.vcu.edu most days from 9AM-5PM, and I’ll be doing the work for this class at around 9AM to 12PM EST. I’ll be honest and say that I took this course to fulfill my literature requirement for my major, but nonetheless I am excited to learn more about poetry. I’m not a huge poetry reader, in school I always liked Emily Dickinson and recently I’ve been reading Emily Carroll’s horror comics, several of which are narrated in verse. As for “the lyric,” I have no idea what it refers to. Hope everyone enjoys this site because I have no idea how to format it.

 
Privacy Statement