ALBANY POETRY EXAMINER
Poetic Musings, January 2013
Happy New Year to all who read this column and to those who provide it.
The word January was derived from the Latin, Janus, the Roman god of gates and beginnings. A statue of him stood between the east/west doorways of his temple depicting him as a man with two faces, pointed in opposite directions. It is not hard to see how Janus, looking forward and backward, should be used as the word for the first month of the year. A perfect time to sit back and look at our lives in both directions.
As I look back on my year spent with poetry – writing it, reading it from magazines and books and to others at poetry events, analyzing poems for the column, and writing reviews of new poetry books – I ponder again, how language got started.
I had heard it said that language began with poetry, but I could not see how that came about. My first stumbling block was poetry’s format of word-filled lines, separated by spaces. I failed to see how primitive man could have accomplished that. But the more I studied and worked with poetry, the more I understood what is meant by language starting with poetry.
A beginning usually starts small. In this case, a few sounds that conveyed understanding and emotional meaning. For instance, a person might point to a fire and say yeow or ow because that is the sound that automatically comes out of his mouth when he gets burned. When we hear the sound mmmmm we know whatever the speaker is eating tastes good. As language progressed the poetic element began to attach other meanings to the concept of poetry. People began to recognize the value of poetry’s original power, compression and sound, and attached new devices to enhance their poems. They used words that provided specific images which create pictures in our minds like a movie clip passing through. Words that depict smells and movement, taste and color. Words that inspire, gladden, and inscribe meaning, like the comment after a tasty meal, “That sure hit the spot.”
As language evolved into large collections of words and, further, into large numbers of languages, sentences became overloaded with words. Rules about how to order them were established and countless books on these rules were published. As a poet myself, I’ve often wondered if there would be a time when there are no words that are not already overused. But people are creative and there are always new words popping up in conversations that find their way into new editions of dictionaries.
And poetry didn’t die with the increase of words. A documentary on Nova shows that as far back as the Neanderthals people decorated their bodies. It is thought that the artificial coloring in some sea shells came from paint mixed to apply color to their faces. The urge to beautify ourselves or our surroundings seems to be in our genes. And so it is that one major way in which human beings satisfy that urge is through the arts – music, dance, painting, writing, and POETRY. Try poetry. You might like it.